Tattoos, handcuffs and Starbucks coffee – is this the way to self-expression? Not likely. But many Arab women can probably relate to the complex issues posed by photographer Abdulaziz Al Qahtani’s latest exhibition, “An Intimate Landscape” which depicts Arab women and the quest for identity in today’s world. This Saudi Arabian artist uses bold images that challenge the observer to examine traditional roles, taboos and his or her place in Western society.
To Want or Not To Want
Pop culture affects all those who live within it and, being based in London, Al Qahtani is at the heart of it. His insightful observations come through in several pieces from the expo, with images of Hijab wearing women in mini-skirts, getting tattooed and drinking alcohol.
Al Qahtani believes that taboos such as these are often used to conceal truths and desires, and that taboos may be the key to rediscovering true human nature. But hold on, not so fast! This up and coming artist is not suggesting that we race out to break all the rules- at least not without putting some serious thought into it.
In an interview with Muslimah Media Watch, he criticizes the double standard that exists in Western society. “People are expected to follow cultural guidelines like sheep, yet they believe that they are open-minded because they wear ‘cool clothing’. Some believe that things such as drinking alcohol or wearing different clothing make you progressive, but I disagree with this.”
Yes, all of the women depicted in “An Intimate Landscape” are wearing the hijab. And yes, Al Qhatani addresses gender inequality (with a definite role reversal!) in his photos of whip-bearing women and their subjugated husbands. But there is no direct reference to Islam. A rather important factor when searching for our place in society, no?
The artist explains, “I wanted to move away from Islam, because I do not like to classify based on religion. I do this because I feel like everyone is spiritual, and that is the best way to be in touch with your inner-self.”
Rather than focusing on Islam specifically, Al Qahtani’s has given universal relevance to his artwork- the photographs depict women as they negotiate their identities.
Although we can see that the women are Middle Eastern because they are wearing the hijab, the search for identity is a challenge that women-and men- from all types of social background can relate to. “An Intimate Landscape” dares observers to embark on this search, but to do it mindfully through deep introspection and self-reflection.