As the Arab creative landscape shifts, female creatives have taken to photography to have their voices heard, stories told, and art reckoned with. Through the rawness and authenticity of their visual narrative, fearless dialogue on gender representation, and the revival of the Arab female gaze, these photographers are not only sparking the right conversations but also staking their claim on the world photography stage.
Amber Asaly was born to a Syrian father and Iraqi mother who moved to California from Lebanon shortly after getting married. Following a stint at art school, Asaly ventured to New York City but returned to Los Angeles to be closer to her family after her father passed away in 2016. “I’ve dedicated my life to the passion my dad allowed me to follow,” she says.
She has collaborated with Puma and Kappa and is a regular photographer for the Kardashians and Emily Ratajkowski. Her work encapsulates strong feminist leanings. “I love to make women feel invincible and powerful. I generally shoot at a low angle to give the subject strength.” On women in photography in the Middle East, Asaly says, “I am proud of the progression, but I still think there is room for more. I think women in the Middle East need to be better showcased and highlighted.”
Born in Cairo to a German mother and Egyptian father, Malak Kabbani moved to London at 17 to study fine arts at Central Saint Martins. She believes in being “honest” and having “soul” in her work, which makes her “connect with whoever she’s shooting, even if it’s a moment on the street.”
Keen on photographing people, Kabbani primarily shoots portraits, fashion, and documentaries and currently works with internationally renowned photographer David Bailey as assistant and retoucher.
As for photography in the Middle East, Kabbani believes that, “A lot more talent is being appreciated because of the rise of Middle East-based publications.”
Saudi Arabian artist and fashion photographer Huda Beydoun taught children with autism before kickstarting her career in photography. Her 2013 street photography series, Documenting The Undocumented, featuring illegal immigrants in Saudi Arabia captured the attention of street artist Banksy.
Following a stint in Paris studying fashion photography, where Beydoun had the opportunity to learn from industry vanguards like Paolo Roversi and Dominique Issermann, she returned to her home country to start MishMosh, a creative agency dedicated to giving a voice to homegrown talent in the Kingdom. Inspired by artists Shirin Neshat and Manal Al Dowayan, Beydoun hopes to see women “lead the fashion photography scene in the Middle East.”
Mashael Al Saie
Bahraini photographer and video artist Mashael Al Saie explores the cultural ideologies of the GCC, traditional standards of femininity, and body politics through film photography and portraiture.
She’s interested in “the compounded ideologies that shape the meaning of womanhood through one’s roots and heritage, and how particular narratives have shaped the psyche of the Arab woman.” Al Saie holds a BA in urban studies from the University of California, Berkeley and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in photography, video, and media arts from New York University. She is also developing a photo series focusing on reimagining local Bahraini archives.
Myriam Boulos was born in 1992, at the tail end of the Lebanese civil war “in a fragmented country that had to reinvent itself.” This volatile political and personal landscape that Boulos grew up in has led her to “use photography to explore, defy, and resist society,” with her images being published in Vogue, Time, and Vanity Fair.
Her biggest source of inspiration are the women around her: “Photographers, artists, and doctors… I admire and respect so many people in the region,” she says. Boulos hopes that with time, artists and photographers from the region would be recognized not just because they’re Arab or women but for their work.
Originally published in the October 2020 issue of Vogue Arabia