In the Arab world, due to long-held religious beliefs and canonical teachings, the place of the image has always been an uneasy one. Meanwhile, in just a few short years, screens have proliferated everywhere (as in much of the rest of the world). The result is a culture flooded with media-producing and consuming devices, which lacks in the vocabulary for criticism.
But while the culture at large might not have had sufficient time to develop a response to the contemporary flood of images, Arab artists are actively producing compelling work from a unique and under-represented viewpoint.
To this end, FotoFest International, for its fifteenth Biennial, has curated an exhibition dedicated to Contemporary Arab Photography, Video and Mixed-media Art. The exhibition, titled "View from Inside", highlights the works of 49 Arab artists from 13 countries in the Middle East and North Africa, with seventeen female artists included.
The generation of artists being shown stand at the crossroads between their individual (and regional) experience and an increasingly globalized one. In the words of senior curator Wendy Watriss, “These artists grew up when satellite television, photo digital technologies, the internet and social media became widespread in the Arab world. They use these global media in individually specific ways, addressing personal experience, and the collective realities of living in the Arab world today. This is the view from inside.”
FotoFest and Schilt Publishing launched a hardcover book accompanying the exhibition. It features over 200 four-color images by Arab artists and four essays by leading scholars, with an introduction by Wendy Watriss. The essays describe the emergence and evolution of photography in the Middle East and North Africa.
Dig into our extensive slideshow above as it presents a fascinating cross-section of what was on display in Houston. For a region so long depicted from the outside, this insider's view is eye-opening and well worth our consideration.
Editor's note: The exhibition and associated programming ran for six weeks, from March 15 through April 27, 2014, in Houston, Texas, USA.