Tag Archives: Marta Weiss

Light from the Middle East

The Middle East, a sprawling and nuanced geographic mass that is home to many cultures and traditions, is often seen through the lens of politics. The Victoria & Albert Museums latest photography exhibition, however, manages to transcend this overarching narrative, producing a show that focuses on the subject of contemporary photographic practice.

As the exhibition’s curator Marta Weiss acknowledges, until now, the V & A Museums collection of photographs from the region reflected the Eurocentric term itself: Most of the photographs that we have that relate to the region were made by westerners, she says. This exhibition marks a departure from that, recognizing instead the wealth and variety of photo-making from this diverse region. This is very much an exhibition that is not about outsiders, but rather a view of the Middle East from the Middle East.”

Spanning over three decades and encompassing the work of some 30 artists and photographers, the show is divided into three parts: recording, re-framing and resisting. The categories, explains Weiss, show how photography is being employed by photographers.

The ambitiousness of the show lies not in its geographic scope, but rather in the drawing together of a diverse group of practitioners who have engaged with the medium in multiple ways.At one end of the spectrum, there is the iconic work of Magnum-photographer Abbas, documenting the unfolding revolution in Iran from 1978-1979 in his series Iran Diary, a precursor to the events attested to recently in the Arab spring. Nermine Hamman focuses on this very subject, photographing young Egyptian soldiers in Tahrir Square. Displayed in the “resistance” section of the exhibition, Hammans digitally altered images remove the soldiers from their immediate surroundings and place them instead among candy-colored mountain scapes and cherry blossoms. Entitled Upekkha (2011), the images have a postcard-like quality, drawing a parallel between the spectacle of Tahrir Square to that of a tourist attraction.

Despite the intention of the curators to shift the emphasis away from the political, Weiss acknowledges there is a lot of politics in the works. Though some of the photographers openly challenge this. Shadi Ghadirians re-staged portraits of Iranian women in the Qajar period (1786-1925) play on the tensions between tradition, modernity and gender. linkwheel . The warm grey theatrical studio photographs feature playful reminders of modernity, including an explorer bicycle and Pepsi can.

The artists on show do not limit themselves to just the Middle East however. Taysir Batnijis series documenting Israeli watchtowers in occupied Palestinian is a clear homage to German artists Bernd and Hillary Bechers iconic typologies of industrial structures in Europe. Yousef Nabil, who once worked with David LaChapelle, also looks to Europe for inspiration, photographing elderly Yemeni men in England. By hand-coloring the portraits in the style of old Egyptian film stills however, Nabil celebrates the rich tradition of Middle Eastern image-making, which, as the exhibition is testament to, is as strong and vibrant as ever.


Light from the Middle East: New Photography is on show at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London from Nov. 13 through April 7, 2013.

Kharunya Paramaguru is based in TIME’s London office.


Photo News – Art Fund supports a major collection of Middle Eastern photography and show for V&A and British Museum

“In the past few years contemporary photographic practice from and about the Middle East has been some of the most exciting, innovative and varied art anywhere in the world…” Marta Weiss, curator

From the series Upekkha, 2011, Nermine Hammam, 2011. Archival inkjet print, 60 x 90 cm, Copyright V&A. Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum, Light from the Middle East: New Photograph

A major collection of contemporary photography, focusing on the Middle East, has been set up for the public by the British Museum and the V&A with funds from the Art Fund. The collection has been in development since 2009 and is funded by over £150,000 of support from the Art Fund.

Most of the collection will be showcased at the V&A (Porter Gallery) in an exhibition Light from the Middle East: New Photography opening on 13 November 2012 and running until 7 April 2013. The show will be the first major museum exhibition of contemporary photography from and about the Middle East and will tour nationally in 2013.

The show is divided into three sections around key themes: Recording, Reframing and Resisting. Expect works that “respond to the social challenges and political upheavals of the Middle East over the last 30 years” or “the last 20 years”, depending on which of the two press releases one reads.

Included are internationally established practitioners such as Abbas (Iran), Youssef Nabil (Egypt) and Walid Raad (Lebanon) as well as emerging photographers including Taysir Batniji (Palestine), Atiq Rahimi (Afghanistan), Shadi Ghadirian (Iran), Mehraneh Atashi (Iran), Nermine Hammam (Egypt), Manal al-Dowayan (Saudi Arabia) and Abdulnasser Gharem (Saudi Arabia), who also happens to be a lieutenant colonel in the Saudi army.

‘Bodiless I’ from the series ‘Zourkhaneh Project (House of Strength)’, Mehraneh Atashi, 2004. Digital c-print, 76.5 x 112.5 cm. Copyright British Museum. Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum. Light from the Middle East: New Photography

There are over 80 works (90 in one press release) in the collection produced by 22 (28 in one press release) emerging and established artists “living in the region or in diaspora”. The works are diverse in terms of technique and subject matter and straddle genres including photojournalism, staged and manipulated imagery.

The collection of Middle Eastern photography has been “built in response to a surge of interest in the visual arts in the region, beginning to remedy the under-representation of Middle Eastern photography in the UK”.

From the series ‘Mothers of Martyrs’, Newsha Tavakolian, 2006. Digital c-print, 50 x 76 cm, Copyright V&A. Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

To see the collection go to Art Fund Middle Eastern.

From the series ‘Qajar’, Shadi Ghadirian, 1998. Gelatin silver bromide print, 30 x 24 cm. Copyright V&A. Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum. Special terms: Light from the Middle East: New Photography

Filed under: Photographers, Photography News, Photography Shows, Visual Artists, Women Photographers Tagged: Art Fund, Atiq Rahimi, British Museum, contemporary photography, Light from the Middle East: New Photography, Marta Weiss, Mehraneh Atashi, Shadi Ghadirian, V&A