Artist's Statement

Sama Alshaibi

I’m interested in the societal impact of unequal power relations between the West and the Middle East, and how that domination is articulated through photographs. By using Albumen printing, a popular print process of the 19th and early 20th century, I am evoking a near century in which the West controlled the Middle East. Photography studios were largely run by Western photographers, and the images they produced were valued as characterizations of the region. The appetite for the exotic, the distant lands and peoples living a simpler time – by Western audiences meant the Orientalist photographer’s vision of Middle Eastern women were captured to express inferiority, picturesqueness of native culture and as the exotic sexual object. In one photograph, the once compulsorily ceramic water jug is now shaped as a massive wasp’s nest or a Molotov cocktail and is hoisted high above the subject’s head. Dressed in all white, the subject depicts the Herculean task of surviving conflict, especially when one’s humanity isn’t afforded to them through their representation. In another image, the mashrabiya, the Arabesque latticework of carved wood normally found on the windows of Iraqi or Egyptian homes, is substituted by laced razor-wire cutouts. They trap the subject’s face into a box formed as a water pipe– another compulsorily cultural object found in most of the historical Oriental photographs of Middle Eastern women."Carry Over" recalls and subverts historical Orientalist portraits made of Middle Eastern women. Women were often depicting carrying vessels of bread or water on their head and staged lounging with “oriental” props that built an uncritical fantasy of the hidden harem for Western audiences. My work amplifies the physical burden of representation found in those photographs, while using traditional processes from the colonial era. The project resists superficial analysis that reduces Middle Eastern women’s rights and opportunities to what they do and don’t wear, which keeps them affixed to assumed subordinate positions in the imagination of others.