04 Mar 2024 - 15 Aug 2024

Reclaiming Visions

Bassam Freiha Art Foundation


Bassam Freiha Art Foundation (BFAF) presents Reclaiming Visions, a group exhibition featuring selected pieces from Sama Alshaibi’s ‘Carry Over’ project and sculptures by Azza Al Qubaisi. By engaging in a direct dialogue with 19th century Orientalist portrait photographs of Middle Eastern women, captured by Western photographers, the exhibition critically explores the representations of Arab women in historical images and navigates the nuanced interplay of history, power, and representation to ultimately reclaim the narratives.

Despite the allure of authenticity, 19th century Orientalist photographs were seldom more than imaginative studio arrangements. Often drawing on a repertoire of themes already established in the Orientalist art movement, as seen in BFAF’s main exhibition space, these photographs depicted women with stylized props, further enhancing the exoticized idea of Middle Eastern women for the Western audience.

This phenomenon is paralleled in Sama Alshaibi’s work: “In my photographs, I aim to disrupt the Western cultural paradigm through a strategy of assigning power to the MENA female body and the sets of the photography studio scene,” the artist explained.

Alshaibi’s use of the same albumen photogravure printing processes as 19th century photograph serves as a powerful connection between historical imagery and contemporary discourse. Furthermore, the artist depicts herself as the subject, and replicates the recurring theme of women carrying vessels on their heads by using enlarged symbolic props, such as the ceramic water jug, jute baskets, or a travel trunk to further expose the burden of enduring misrepresentations.

The poetic sculptures of Azza Al Qubaisi reinterpret the symbolic value of a traditional woman’s head coverings within a modern context.

No single item of clothing has had more influence on Western images of Middle Eastern women than the veil and the perceived ‘mysteries’ which lay behind it. By juxtaposing the abaya and the ghonnela — garments that have a long-standing tradition both in Muslim and Christian culture, the artist transcends the historical narrative and opens the dialogue between the East and the West.

Press release from Bassam Freiha Art Foundation

Image: Sama Alshaibi. Water Bearer II. 2019. Photogravure blind embossing with transparent ink relief rolled on Stonehenge White 100% rag paper. 63.5 x 50.8 cm. Edition of 8. Image courtesy of the artist and Ayyam Gallery