Rawiya | She Who Tells a Story opening September 9 at GPP

All are welcome September 9, from 7:30pm onward in Alserkal Avenue for the first collective gallery opening night of the season.  Multiple galleries will be sharing new work, including GPP who is pleased to present Rawiya | She Who Tells a Story, a photography exhibition featuring four photographers from across the Arab world sharing intimate portraits of the everyday.

Reflecting distinct visual approaches and divergent subjects, members of the Rawiya photography collective fill Gulf Photo Plus’ Alserkal Avenue gallery with a cacophony of individual stories. While clearly shaped by and within the context of larger social and political realties, these are not photographs documenting catastrophe or violence, but instead simple, universally human moments.  In presenting these works together in conversation, the exhibition expands the monolithic narrative of the region by collapsing it down to the minute and mutable possibilities of the everyday.

Rawiya is a photography collective founded by female photographers from across the Middle East, showing together in Dubai for the first time. Rawiya, meaning ‘she who tells a story’, brings together work by Myriam Abdelaziz, Tamara Abdul Hadi, Laura Boushnak, and Tanya Habjouqa.

Laura Boushnak presents a selection from the series ‘I Read I Write: Yemen - access to education’, the continuation of an ongoing project documenting women and education across the Arab world.  Her subjects are all women – the first members in their families to pursue higher education – depicted both facing the camera with a warm, direct gaze and taking part in a tableau of daily scenes. The images are inscribed with the women’s handwritten text that reflects Boushnak’s conversations with the students about their achievements and aspirations, as well as the challenges they face in an ultra-    conservative society, where the prevailing role for women is limited to marriage and the home.


Reflecting divergent, yet in the end parallel stories of women pursuing their dreams within the constraints of a social context, Myriam Abdelaziz’s series ‘Cairo Dances’ offers an intimate portrait of Egyptian belly dancers.  Striking enticing poses in ornate, if slightly faded, costumes against a simple studio background, the women have a monumental, almost memorialized quality to them.  The series is an effort, Abdelaziz explains, to document an endangered species, as a combination of economic and socio-religious factors lead fewer Egyptian women to continue the tradition so historically strongly associated with the country. 


The scenes captured in Tanya Habjouqa’s ‘Occupied Pleasures’ – families on picnics, children swimming, young girls preparing for a party, women practicing yoga or attending a wedding – are both hauntingly fleeting and decidedly commonplace.  The juxtaposition is a common one for Palestinians, whose daily existence often includes the intersection of the bizarre and the banal.  The series reveals quirky and lighthearted moments of respite for Palestinians coping with limited freedom of movement within a society most often seen through the lens of hard news.

Moving beyond questions of how those living in marginalized communities are seen by others, ‘Ramallah, 2011’ by Tamara Abdul Hadi is itself an interactive exercise, in which the individuals being photographed have the ability to control their own image and decide how to represent themselves.  Handing control to her subjects – children, women, older men, and teenagers – Abdul Hadi invites those living in Ramallah to take their own portraits. The resulting images challenge static notions of documentation, and leave viewers face to face with individuals, unobstructed by another’s perspective.

As a collective, Rawiya seeks to present an insider’s view of a region in flux by balancing its contradictions while reflecting on social and political issues and stereotypes. Abdelaziz, Abdul Hadi, Boushnak, and Habjouqa respect the human dignity of the stories they tell, pooling resources and vision to produce in-depth photo-essays and long-term projects. 

The Rawiya exhibition runs from September 9, to October 16, 2013 in the Gulf Photo Plus gallery, Alserkal Avenue, Al Quoz.