Highlights from ‘The Shortest Distance Between Us’

‘Live, Love, Refugee’ by Omar Imam. (Supplied)
Updated 11 February 2019

Highlights from ‘The Shortest Distance Between Us’

DUBAI: The headline exhibition for Gulf Photo Week 2019 features work from seven photographers awarded grants by the Arab Documentary Photography Program.

‘Live, Love, Refugee’
Syrian photographer and filmmaker Omar Imam takes an ironic, conceptual approach to document the violence in his homeland — and its effect on his countrymen. In this project, Imam examines the mental state of Syrian refugees in Lebanon. “I chose to make complex photographs, employing symbolism and surrealism, in an attempt to approach the psychological situation of my subjects,” he explained in his project description. Each image is accompanied by poignant — but often humorous — quotes from his subjects. This one, for example, features the following insight: “Now that we’re in the camp, she brings home the food. Our testicles are in danger.”

Hicham Gardaf’s project focuses on the recent rapid urban expansion in his homeland of Morocco. “This project explores city fringes and borders, where the coexistence of contemporary society with nature is best characterized by the constant push of urban space into the land,” he wrote. “Aside from this physical evolution, there is the invisible dimension of ideological and cultural transformation.”

‘West of Life’
Tunisian artist Zied Ben Romdhane looks at Gafsa, a phosphate mining region in Tunisia and the impact this economically crucial industry has had on local villages, which — despite their rich resources — have, he says, been “marginalized by the government.” “They remain poor and polluted — a conduit for wealth. Meanwhile, coastal towns prosper.” The project, he says, is a testimony to Gafsa’s “harshness,” but “balanced, I hope, by the humor of the inhabitants and my affection for them.”

‘Moon Dust’
Mohamed Mahdy’s project documents Wadi El Qamar — aka Moon Valley. This area of western Alexandria is home to 60,000 people whose lives are blighted by the toxic dust expelled by the nearby cement factory, which causes numerous health issues. “The conflict in zoning is having grave effects on a large population,” writes the Egyptian photographer, “and it is unclear what is being done to address the problem.”

‘Infertile Crescent’
Jordanian photographer Nadia Bseiso examines “the reality of what was once called the cradle of civilization.” She writes: “Once considered ‘fertile,’ the crescent is now burning in turmoil.” Her project focuses on the route of the 180-km Two Seas Canal pipeline. It is, she says, “an old wives tale, on the construction of a pipeline, where a geologist and a village idiot agree: The next war will be a water war.”

Multimedia artist Heba Khalifa’s project began when she created a private Facebook group for women to share feelings and personal stories. She then visualized how the image of each story might look “and together we constructed a photograph.” This image is accompanied by text explaining that the girl pictured was beaten by her father: “He used to cry every time he hit me and say, ‘I didn’t mean to call you a whore … I am your father, I am trying to protect you.’” The whole thing was inspired by Khalifa’s reaction to a “demeaning” phrase that, she says, “summarizes my life and my relationship with my body.” That phrase? “Be careful, you’re a girl.”

‘Stranded: On Life After Imprisonment’
This project, from Lebanese photographer Elsie El-Haddad, follows ex-convicts “in their struggle to rebuild their lives” after their release from jail. It was inspired by a chance meeting on a beach with a group of ex-convicts in 2012. “Getting to know these men made me reflect on the psychological effects of incarceration and what that meant for their re-entry to society,” El-Haddad writes. One of the men she photographed told her: “Sometimes I believe that I was much happier when I was in prison. In prison, there is more honesty. There’s nothing to hide … everything is on the table.”


Writing’s on the wall for unsightly graffiti in 36 Saudi cities

Updated 21 July 2019

Writing’s on the wall for unsightly graffiti in 36 Saudi cities

  • 5,700 students tapped to replace graffiti with traditional art
  • The massive spruce-up operation will take place in southwest region of Asir

RIYADH: An initiative to clear unsightly graffiti from the walls of 36 Saudi cities and replace it with traditional art has been officially launched.

A 5,700-strong army of students will be drafted for the massive spruce-up operation to take place over a period of 36 hours across the Kingdom’s southwest region of Asir.

Once the walls have been cleaned, the second phase of the project will involve raising awareness about the importance of maintaining public spaces, with the city of Abha the first to benefit. There, a length of wall covering more than 2,000 square meters, will be decorated.

The scheme is partly aimed at encouraging Asir youth to become proactive citizens in their own cities, and role models for other provinces.


The scheme aims to encourage Asir youth to become proactive citizens in their own cities, and role models for other provinces.

Students from seven education administrations in the region will clean walls on main and side roads, and also suburbs, in 36 cities.

An official statement issued by Asir regional authorities, said the objectives behind the Asir campaign were “to encourage social responsibility among its citizens, empower youth to participate in activities that bring out their potential, and to increase awareness of responsibility toward public ownership.”

Students from seven education administrations in the region will clean walls on main and side roads, and also suburbs, in 36 cities.

Many of the walls will then be decked out with art works including Al-Qatt Al-Asiri, a traditionally female interior wall decoration. In 2017, the ancient art form was added to the UNESCO List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

The statement added that Asir had been embracing cultural art for decades, and Al-Qatt Al-Asiri was now identified with the Asir region around the world. The British Museum and other major international exhibition centers have been acquiring the work of Asir artists in recent years.

Attending the launch of the initiative in Abha, Dr. Walid Al-Humaidi, the secretary of Asir region, said: “This initiative is part of objectives to improve the urban landscape, which is one of the most important programs of national transformation in the municipal sector in line with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030.”

He added that the second part of the project aimed to increase awareness about the value of artwork and its role in developing a sense of human belonging.