Farah AlRasheed: A Shift in Power
This body of work is not intended to offend anyone, rather to depict the reality of what it really is like to live in a Middle Eastern society; not politically, not religiously but culturally. Many are so embedded within the cultural norms that they do not separate themselves from it, and realize that their outward identity is not a true and honest reflection of their inward selves. These images are exposing taboo elements and meant to stimulate thought through provocative imagery as a way to wake people up to the realities of the facades we all can hide behind.
The silhouettes of the bodies of the women are covered in a black veil as a symbol of their invisibility and a cloak of their desires. It is a woman’s responsibility to hide her true power and pleasures, to be faceless and anonymous, to be drenched by this black veil, and completely washed away through the expectations of purity, humility, and virginity. It is not the focus of location in which women are seen as invisible, it is the roles and perception of women upheld by society and how women must compromise their identity due to cultural and societal constraints.
Women are silhouettes forced into shapes and have a responsibility to hide their true desires. Culture rewards women upholding a perception of purity while placing guilt for those who participate and follow their desires and pleasures. It is important to reflect on how this perception is hypocritical in shaming women because it allows men to freely engage in their own pleasures without the weight of guilt and humiliation that women must carry. These interpretations of women forced to fit this standard give women the identity of being an object (objectification and sexualization) for society while only allowing men to be seen as human.
Kat Davis: What drew you to photography as a way of communication?
Farah AlRasheed: My interest in photography began as a contemplation and a meditation before it evolved into a form of communication. I grew up in a wonderful home, surrounded by a supportive and loving family. My parents tirelessly dedicated themselves to the enrichment–mind and soul–of my siblings and myself. Indeed, it was my father who gave me my first camera. No matter how happy a childhood, growing up is inevitable, bringing with it harsher realities. As I began to notice many realities of the world around me, I developed a sense of unease and a sense of isolation–but how would I say so? Spending my formative years as a young adult in starkly different cultures created a sense of disorientation as I was bombarded with similar and conflicting notions of who I should be–how would I find my truth? It was through photography that I felt safe to think on, express, and at times critique the beliefs that surrounded me.
KD: How do you think people are impacted by the images that they see? For you, how much does imagery (media, advertisements, even social media posts) influence culture?
FA: In the vulnerable way that I am sharing my evolving understanding of womanhood and self, I hope to commune and reassure others who find themselves trudging through the same questions. My body of work is carefully considered and staged because I believe that I should always strive to think before I speak, whether that’s verbally or through my work. When I choose to share a piece with any audience, I am attempting to elicit a response not necessarily a particular response. The core of my motivations is to nudge at an avoided and even uncomfortable topic and start a dialogue–with my viewer, with their friends or family, with themselves. Like a good professor, I’d like to offer a topic that my viewers really have to chew on. While my photographs are undoubtedly speaking to women, I do not create anything to one specific type of audience. In fact, I want the feelings and conversations evoked by my images to be accessible. The longer I engage in the self-discovery that is my work, the more I have begun to realize that the journey through our preconceived notions is a universal one.
KD: For you, what is the difference between imagery that eroticizes or fetishizes, and imagery that celebrates sensual freedom? Is the difference in the eye of the beholder, so to speak?
FA: Any image is interpreted by the viewer and we as artists have little to no control over our viewers. In that respect, I would say that, yes, how erotic or fetishized an image is or is not, is in the eyes of the beholder. However, I think that the more important consideration to distinguish between fetishization and celebration, is in the creation of the image. A subject with agency will naturally have the autonomy to explore sensuality–in any form. The spectrum of femininity and sexuality is broad within and between cultures. I have deeply and gradually explored the ranging representations of “woman” through the lens of my camera. In my own journey, I have found solace in recognizing that the conservative and the contemporary, the eastern and the western; all of the feminine narratives, are sound and harmonious when women are self-governing.
KD: As a Kuwaiti woman, what would you like to see more of in the media, and in general? What kind of representation do you think would help elevate voices of Muslim woman, and women of color?
FA: Diversifying the prescribed boundaries as well as improving the representation of not just Muslim women but all women of color is imperative to dismantling the limiting beliefs and stereotypes of who women of color are. As an Arab woman in America, it can be incredibly disheartening to watch Arab women portrayed in the exact same box time and time again. Though not from personal experience, I know as a friend and a consumer that this dilemma is not unique to Arab women. The solution boils down to a shift in power.
FA: Granting more opportunities for the marginalized populations to tell their stories in their own words rather than allowing an appropriated or narrow version to be told by others. While I regularly am confronted by a one dimensional understanding of who I must be based on my appearance or my heritage, I have observed these damaging narratives placed on all women in their respective ways. It is my hope that I, along with so many other brave and bold women, can create a platform that challenges these one-dimensional labels by creating our own rounded and unique selves. In doing this we can hold hands and take another step towards freedom.
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