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.”


Different strokes: Saudi artist draws the line at cosmetic waste

Updated 15 December 2019

Different strokes: Saudi artist draws the line at cosmetic waste

  • 19-year-old student Aisha Javid Mir produces paintings that are both eye-catching and eco-friendly

JEDDAH: Using a technique all her own, one young Saudi artist is turning out artworks that not only light up a room — but also help save the planet. 

Instead of traditional oils, 19-year-old student Aisha Javid Mir uses discarded makeup and cosmetics to produce paintings that are both eye-catching and eco-friendly.

She describes the process as “beauty created out of beauty.”

Her project, Artientifique, has introduced the concept to a growing audience, drawing praise from around the Middle East and abroad.  

“The idea of using makeup to paint came to me when I was in my school,” Mir told Arab News. “One of my friends bought new cosmetics and changed her set, throwing the old cosmetics stock in the bin.” 

Mir set to work developing new painting techniques using waste cosmetics, inventing tools to help her paint.

“Makeup brushes wouldn’t work on canvas because they are designed for faces and makeup texture is different from traditional paint, so I had to think and work on it,” she said.

The idea of painting using old cosmetics sounds simpler than it was. “I worked for years to figure out how I could make a beautiful, durable, premium-quality paintings for art lovers by using waste,” she said.

“It shouldn’t ever look like it was created from trash.”


• Aisha Mir has no preferences in terms of makeup products or brands.

• ‘When I collect waste stock, it is a mix of broken, sticky and old things,’ she said.

While practicing Mir introduced the idea to friends in the Middle East, India and abroad, and shared her paintings on social media, gaining positive feedback.

She said waste and poor disposal of cosmetics pose a threat to the planet through harmful chemicals and micro-plastics, with hormone disruption, genetic mutation and possible extinction of marine species among the most pressing concerns.

“I was trying to spread awareness about the harm caused by waste cosmetics. I knew what I was doing was on a small scale, but when people applauded, I realized what I was doing was great and beneficial. It motivated me to work harder,” Mir said.

The painter has been interested in art ever since she was a toddler. “I don’t remember a single day I came home in a clean uniform,” she said.

Now word of Mir’s work is spreading. She was featured in this year’s Misk Global Forum and has also collaborated with Maitreya Art, one of India’s best-known galleries.

Artientifique is helping to raise environmental awareness by allowing art lovers to buy paintings and support the initiative.

Mir said that in future she hopes to collaborate with art galleries, conduct makeup painting exhibitions and work with cosmetics brands to “convert waste into something exclusive.”