In Pictures: A Middle Eastern Identity Decoded
You don’t have to stretch to understand the power that imagery can have on an identity. Here, in the Middle East, that imagery is often dictated by Western perspectives – and with a wide, sprawling diaspora, many of Middle Eastern descent exclusively experience that Western perspective.
“I believe that by ‘othering’ a people you create a somewhat dangerous distance in which a lot can happen,” says Farah Foudeh, the Palestinian-Jordanian artist who explores issues of culture and identity through her works.
Her series “Bedu” typified this approach. After working in Jordan’s tourism industry, Foudeh saw, over and over again, how the region’s Bedouin community was reduced to a kind of performance: part of a theatre put on to catch the eyes and interest of tourists.
“I noticed that people today were still after the exotic images, and they often focused on the desert and Bedouin culture as the prevalent symbol of Jordan. The Bedouin community – which now lives in concrete homes in the town with running water, electricity and internet – was still being framed in the past,” she says. “‘Bedu’ is inspired by my process of slowly getting to know the community and breaking my own stereotypes. I myself had been subjected to the same orientalist, ‘stuck in the past’ representation of the community, and was surprised to find that time has, in fact, touched them.”
The final works are a kind of exaggeration, playing on the idea. After meeting the community through many visits, she created a series of images of the men performing in the landscape, and, at times, returning the gaze back to the viewer.
“When a person, community or culture many thousands of miles away is being presented to you through an exotic lens, often framed through its past, it then becomes difficult to relate to the other side on a personal level. What you see is someone who looks different, lives differently and most probably ‘feels and thinks’ differently. They are foreign and unrelatable. And this distance can be dangerous because it creates room for false and inaccurate tales to be told and believed, and we all know the region still struggles with this today.”
“For me, it’s about learning to question the things that we take for granted. And most importantly, looking at the relationship our visual history has with shaping our thoughts and feelings.”
“We created images in which [Bedouins] are either performing within the landscape or returning the gaze back to the viewer. This dance within the landscape hopes to emphasise the performative role that plays into most aspects of the tourism industry.”
I believe that by ‘othering’ a people you create a somewhat dangerous distance in which a lot can happen.
IT TAKES TWO
“This a special project to me. I was initially interested in looking at the effects of tourism on Petra. A once closed-off community hidden away between the mountains was opened up to the world after it became a UNESCO World Heritage site. I wanted to look at the effects of this.”
“There’s a lot going on in the Middle East scene that is very interesting and gratifying. I can feel the energy of a lot of young artists from across the region who are passionate and eager to create work on a global scale, while also having important and local conversations about who we are, what issues are important to tackle and where we are heading.”
Bedu is inspired by my process of slowly getting to know the community and breaking my own stereotypes.
Photography Farah Foudeh