Tag Archives: North Africa

After the Spring: Women of the Arab Revolution

A year after they both captured the global imagination, the revolutions in Egypt and Libya are now poised on a knife-edge. The sense of hope that followed the departures of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi — the former nudged out of power by the army top brass; the latter eventually killed by rebel militia after a bloody eight-month civil war — has withered. In Egypt, the shadow of the country’s domineering military looms large despite the victory in presidential elections of a candidate from the once-banned Muslim Brotherhood. (Many liberals, meanwhile, question the Islamists’ commitment to a free and open democracy.) In Libya, the violent overthrow of the four-decade old Gaddafi dictatorship has left behind a fledgling state that is riven by tribal militias, even as the nation held elections last weekend.

Witnessing the upheaval firsthand, photojournalist Sarah Elliott set about documenting those who have had most to gain — and to lose — from the transformations of the Arab Spring: women. The revolutions in both countries, which were aimed at toppling an encrusted, deep-seated authoritarianism, presented women “with opportunities they had never before imagined,” says Elliott. Women massed on the frontlines of protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square; in Libya, some were on the frontlines as well — with machine guns.

Yet when Elliott arrived in Libya last August, not long before the fall of the capital Tripoli, she entered a story that seemed — at least as it was being conveyed then to the outside world — bereft of women. While myriad images beamed out of North Africa depicted crowds of men chanting in the streets or strutting around abandoned tanks, “women were totally unseen, they were absent,” says Elliott. In Tripoli, she went to hospitals and prisons, civil society meetings and ransacked government buildings, interviewing women from all walks of life and political stripes. Her project includes both a pro-Gaddafi sniper, whom Elliott first encounters on a hospital bed and then at a makeshift prison, as well as a range of women affiliated with the rebellion—including one lady who would smuggle bullets in her handbag and another, a fighter on the front, who named her child after the popular “Doshka” machine gun.

Elliott’s photographs blend portraiture and reportage; the testimony of those she documents is important. “I wasn’t just snapping pics,” says Elliott. “I sat down with them for hours and kept in contact. I want to fully tell their story.” She hopes to expand the project from Libya and Egypt to cover the whole breadth of the Arab Spring — most immediately Tunisia, where last year’s seismic upheavals first began and where a fragile consensus exists between the Islamist and secularist forces that came to power in the revolution’s wake.

(Related: Egypt’s Muslim Sisterhood: What roles do Islamist women play?)

For women, much is at stake. The promise of sweeping political change has run up against the realities of conservative, deeply patriarchal societies. In both post-revolution Egypt and Libya, Islamist pressure led to the axing of minimum quotas for women in the countries’ new elected legislatures. Fears grow over a roll-back of the moderate gains made by women’s rights in the era of the dictatorships, which, while repressive, tended to be secular. In Egypt, incidences of sexual harassment and intimidation — which had a brief reprieve during the giddy days of unity at Tahrir Square — have worsened; many feel increasingly marginalized by the post-revolution status quo. “For women, there’s a sense that their revolution never really ended,” says Elliott. She hopes to follow them as their struggle continues.

Sarah Elliott is a Nairobi-based photographer. See more of her work here.

Visit the University of Chicago’s Renaissance Society for a Sneak Peak at Survival Techniques Artist, Yto Barrada

3.20.12_Barrada_blog.jpg

Hailing from Tangier, Yto Barrada’s work about contemporary social and political issues in Morocco is getting a lot of attention here in Chicago.

Barrada, whose work will be featured in the MoCP’s upcoming exhibition Survival Techniques, also has an exhibition currently running at the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago.

Barrada’s show, Riffs, at the Renaissance Society explores the seemingly mundane aspects of the historical changes currently taking place in North Africa. Similarly, her work in Survival Techniques discusses these same political issues… but in a more satirical fashion. Using photographs, illustrations, diagrams, slogans, stories and games to comment on social and political issues in contemporary Morocco, Barrada pokes fun at the struggles the country faces in the eyes of globalization.

Riffs is on display at the Renaissance Society through April 22. Survival Techniques runs at the Museum of Contemporary Photography April 12 through July 1. Admission to both museums is free and open to the public.

About Yto Barrada
Born in France, Barrada grew up between Tangier and Paris, where she studied history and political science at the Sorbonne. After attending the International Center for Photography in New York and spending 16 years abroad, Barrada returned to Tangiers, where she continues to base her artwork on the cultural climate of the city. Recently, she had a solo exhibition at the Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin, and also exhibited at the 2011 Venice Biennale.

Visit the University of Chicago’s Renaissance Society for a Sneak Peak at Survival Techniques Artist, Yto Barrada

3.20.12_Barrada_blog.jpg

Hailing from Tangier, Yto Barrada’s work about contemporary social and political issues in Morocco is getting a lot of attention here in Chicago.

Barrada, whose work will be featured in the MoCP’s upcoming exhibition Survival Techniques, also has an exhibition currently running at the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago.

Barrada’s show, Riffs, at the Renaissance Society explores the seemingly mundane aspects of the historical changes currently taking place in North Africa. Similarly, her work in Survival Techniques discusses these same political issues… but in a more satirical fashion. Using photographs, illustrations, diagrams, slogans, stories and games to comment on social and political issues in contemporary Morocco, Barrada pokes fun at the struggles the country faces in the eyes of globalization.

Riffs is on display at the Renaissance Society through April 22. Survival Techniques runs at the Museum of Contemporary Photography April 12 through July 1. Admission to both museums is free and open to the public.

About Yto Barrada
Born in France, Barrada grew up between Tangier and Paris, where she studied history and political science at the Sorbonne. After attending the International Center for Photography in New York and spending 16 years abroad, Barrada returned to Tangiers, where she continues to base her artwork on the cultural climate of the city. Recently, she had a solo exhibition at the Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin, and also exhibited at the 2011 Venice Biennale.

Insha’Allah: Morocco’s Changing Culture

We reached a vast field just beyond Casablanca’s limit. Dusty trails wandered toward the center, where they crisscrossed then extended further outward toward mosques, half made tenement blocks and shanty towns. The sun felt metallic hot. Opaque echos of a single prayer call grazed us with the coming breeze. More began to rise, until the many voices braided the air around us. I watched and froze the sprawling urban panorama that vibrated behind heat waves, until the voices faded away.

This past June I spent five weeks in North Africa participating in an art-research project called Beyond Digital: Morocco. As a collaborative, experimental project, each of the seven multi-disciplined participants interpreted a core research theme centered around contemporary Moroccan music and the culture it emerges from. I used this evocative aspect of the culture as a guide to explore the country’s current landscape, both environmental and social.

Morocco is a landscape at the precipice. At the far western edge of the Muslim world, it is both a world unto itself and a historic doorway between Europe, the Middle East and Africa. These varied influences have woven themselves into a unique cultural fabric, marked with sharp contrasts. Today, Western cultural trends, international investment projects and sprawling urban development jostle together with the country’s Muslim and ancient Berber cultures. To this is added the pressing undertone of Morocco’s ambivalent position within the developing Arab Spring.

My goal was to make a series of images which would capture the concurrent dynamics of this contemporary Moroccan landscape. As a foreign artist, I wanted to seek the edges of the landscape that fell away from the ways Morocco is generally represented, allowing the landscape to recount its story through the image-making process. This photographic contribution was one of several media involved in the larger project, from documentary video shorts to software design, each offering its own artistic interpretation, thus creating a multi-faceted experiment in how art and cultural research can work in tandem.

John Francis Peters is a New York based photographer and photo editor.