Art Radar profiles 9 artists from Objectifs’ annual exhibition of women photographers in Singapore.
Singapore’s Objectifs holds an annual exhibition entitled “Women in Film and Photography”, showcasing the work and celebrating the achievements of women working in photography and film internationally. Art Radar profiles 9 artists from Asia, the Middle East and North Africa featured in the photography exhibition co-presented with Magnum Foundation.
Running from 19 October to 20 November 2016 at Objectifs Centre for Photography and Film in Singapore, “Women in Photography” features the work of 18 women photographers from across the world and is co-presented with Magnum Foundation.
Curated by Emmeline Yong, Centre Director for Objectifs, the exhibition includes artists that are associated with the Magnum Foundation, having been recipients of the foundation’s Emergency Fund, Human Rights Fellowship or Arab Documentary Photography Program. The Foundation, established by Magnum Photos, champions in-depth, independent documentary photography that fosters empathy, engagement and positive social change.
The photographers in the exhibition all engage with diverse issues, from occupational disease in China to perceptions of women in the Middle East and use the lens in different ways, from street photography to investigative documentary and conceptual approaches. As Yong comments in the press release,
This edition of Women in Photography celebrates the growing and thriving presence of women in photojournalism, an arena that has been traditionally dominated by men. These women have distinguished themselves through their commitment to telling important, thoughtful stories of communities that often deserve wider attention.
Kristen Lubben, Executive Director of the Magnum Foundation, observes that this first partnership with Objectifs presents “compelling and eye-opening work” of women who come from countries as diverse as Syria, Mexico and the Philippines. She continues:
The diversity of their perspectives is reflected in the subjects they portray and their creative approaches to photographic storytelling. We share these photographers’ commitment to using images to engage viewers with issues and ideas that expand their understanding of the world around them.
The photography section of the annual event is accompanied by the “Women in Film” programme, which celebrates the work of women filmmakers from around the world, including Thailand, Singapore, China, Japan and Europe. Among the filmmakers screening their work are Lina Yang, Du Haibin, Jessey Tsang, Mary Stephen, Amelie Wen, Tan Pinpin, Momoko Seto and Zhao Qing.
Art Radar profiles nine women photographers and their work in the exhibition “Women in Photography”.
1. Amira Al Sharif
Amira Al Sharif was born in Saudia Arabia and raised in Yemen. She now works in Yemen and Socotra as a photojournalist, and as one of the few women in a male-dominated environment, she pushes cultural and societal boundaries. Al Sharif started working as a professional photographer in 2005, for local newspapers such as the Yemen Observer and Spectrum Newspaper, and from 2008 for the Yemen Times, covering stories on political upheavals and the lives of the poor. Her work has also been published in English and Arabic international newspapers, as well as by humanitarian and development organisations like Oxfam International and UNICEF.
A love song to Socotra Island functions as a tribute to women who face the hardships of life with courage in a country that gives considerably more power to men than to women. Due to a combination of statutory law, sharia and traditional tribal practices, women are left vulnerable to discrimination and the persistent unfavourable situation renders vain the hope to obtain equal rights to men. The story in this work takes place in Socotra Island, a part of Yemen, the biggest island in a small archipelago of four in the Indian Ocean. Socotra is part of Yemeni Women with Fighting Spirits, Al Sharif’s long-term documentary project on the resilience of Yemeni women and their contributions to their communities.
2. Emine Ziyatdinova
Ukranian Emine Ziyatdinova is a Kiev-based documentary photographer. Born in Uzbekistan, where her family was deported to in 1944 from Crimea by the Stalin regime, she graduated from Ohio University’s School of Visual Communication with an MA in Photojournalism. She has held a Fulbright Scholarship and a Magnum Foundation Emergency Fund Fellowship among others. She continues to work on her documentary project about Crimean Tatars after the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation in 2014.
Crimean Tatars is the personal visual story of Ziyatdinova’s family and community after their return to Crimea in the 1990s following their deportation from their ancestral homeland some 50 years earlier.
Crimean Tatars like the artist herself born in exile after the 1944 deportation grew up with tales of their homeland, in which figured vibrantly coloured roses and apple orchards, silver mountains and blue seas. The reality was quite different, as their village was in the steppe, a flat, featureless landscape in northern Crimea, which rarely featured in the stories or the news. As Objectifs writes,
The project reflects on the Crimean Tatars’ search for a ‘Home’, to keep their cultural and ethnic identity in the complicated geopolitical situation after the Russian annexation in 2014, when the Crimean Tatars as a group became a subject of the state’s repressive politics.
3. Heba Khalifa
Egyptian multimedia artist, photojournalist and painter Heba Khalifa was born in 1977 in Cairo, where she is currently based. Trained in set design at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Cairo and at at the High Institute of Art Critics, she creates work that combines photography, prints and painting. She uses photography as an essential part of her artistic projects and she has consistently developed an interest in documenting and representing women and gender issues. Khalifa is also a founding member of the Shouf collective, comprising eight photojournalists who use photography as means of “expressing ideas and principles of life”.
Khalifa presents Homemade, a project that started from a private group of women on Facebook who shared their feelings and personal stories, forming close bonds of friendships. The artist says that the phrase “Be careful, you are a girl” summarises much of the experience of many women. She and the women in the group visualised the images for these shared stories, and as she reveals to Objectifs,
After many meetings and photographs I noticed a change, as these women opened up and felt liberated. The process of storytelling is a way to heal and to free us from the weight of experience.
4. Muyi Xiao
Born in Wuhan, China, Shanghai-based photographer and multimedia producer Muyi Xiao left her job as a photojournalist in 2015 upon receiving one of seven Magnum Foundation Photography and Human Rights Fellowships. As a Fellow, she studied at a five-week programme at New York University and graduated in 2016 from the International Center for Photography’s New Media Narrative programme. Her works have appeared on publications and media outlets at home and abroad, including The New York Times, BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera among others.
Forget Me Not is a photographic project that portrays an 84-year-old woman named Suzy suffering from Alzheimer that Xiao met while in New York in February 2016.
Xiao lost her grandmother in 2015, who had also battled with Alzheimer’s for four years before her passing. Thus, Xiao was taken by Suzy’s story. The elderly lady had lost both her husband and son years earlier and had been suffering from the disease for six years when the artist met her. Now her 70-year-old cousin Roz takes care of her. Triggering personal memories, Xiao wanted to explore in-depth the disconnections caused by memory loss through this story. She reveals:
Suzy has been living in a nursing home, and Roz visits her every Sunday. They’ve been close for most of their lives, however these memories once shared together now is only left for one. Suzy will even forget Roz one day — like my grandma forgot me.
5. Poulomi Basu
New Delhi- and London-based photographer Poulomi Basu was raised by her mother in Calcutta, and first found inspiration in the city’s cinematic history. Her work focuses on under-reported contemporary issues, where gender and identity occupy a central position. Poulomi’s work has become known for documenting the role of women in isolated communities and conflict zones, and for advocating the rights of women.
She was awarded the Magnum Foundation Human Rights Fellowship in 2012, and has been recognised by organisations such as Magenta Flash Forward Award, Foto Visura Award, Reporters Without Borders and many others for her personal works To Conquer Her Land and A Quiet Revolution. Her images have appeared in The Guardian, The New York Times, Monocle and NPR, and she has undertaken assignments for UNESCO, Save the Children, Water Aid and Crisis Action.
In Ritual of Exile Basu explores Chaupadi, a tradition in the western part of Nepal that banishes women during their menstruation period and forces them to live in rudimentary chapaudi sheds, away from their home. During this monthly period, women are treated like cattle, with food thrown at them, and they are forbidden to touch family members, bathe in the same water and eat at the same table. Although this tradition was declared illegal by Nepal’s Supreme Court in 2005, chaupadi is still practiced in isolated communities who live by observing tradition and taboo. As Objectifs writes,
Alone in their remote sheds, these women are often vulnerable to abuse by passing thugs and animal attacks. Yet, they live in a society that venerates a multitude of female deities; indeed, it remains a contradiction that many of these same practices perpetuate the subjugation of women and sanction violence against them.
6. Tanya Habjouqa
Based in East Jerusalem, Tanya Habjouqa was born in Jordan in 1975. A documentary photographer with a primary interest in gender, social and human rights issues in the Middle East, she is a founding member of Rawiya, the first all female photo collective of the Middle East. In 2013 she was the recipient of the Magnum Foundation Emergency Fund and in 2014 she won the World Press Photo award for her book Occupied Pleasures. Habjouqa mentors young grantees from across the Arab region for Magnum’s Emerging Arab Photographer Documentary Fund together with the Prince Claus Foundation and the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture.
Her series Occupied Pleasures subtly portrays the nuances of pleasure-seeking everyday lives in the trying conditions of the Occupied West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza. There are more than four million Palestinians living in the area today, and the political situation makes life difficult. There is not much freedom of movement and the threat of violence is high at all times. People thus try to find pleasure in the smallest things. Her Ojectifs profile reads:
Occupied Pleasures straddles passive and active meanings: to be occupied under Israel, and to occupy oneself, joyfully and defiantly, in pastime and simple pleasures.
7. Xyza Cruz Bacani
Filipino street and documentary photographer Xyza Cruz Bacani was a domestic worker in Hong Kong for nearly a decade, and she used photography to document the lives of her colleagues and the under-reported stories of migrants and related human rights issues. In 2014 she won the Justice Centre Human Rights Award in Hong Kong, and her work has been featured in The New York Times Lens Blog, CNN and various international media publications. She was a Magnum Foundation Human Rights Fellow in 2015, and has exhibited worldwide. She is the recipient of a resolution passed by the Philippines House of Representatives in her honor, HR No. 1969, and was one of the BBC’s 100 Women of the World 2015, 30 Under 30 Women Photographers 2016, Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia 2016, and a Fujifilm Ambassador.
Mono captures life as an immigrant worker in Hong Kong, and the isolation of a life that the artist herself has lived. She shares with Objectifs:
During the time that I lived and worked in Hong Kong as a domestic servant, I had always wanted to feel like it was my second home. Tragically I never felt like I belonged, and have recently come face to face with the reality that I have spent nearly a decade of my life here, living in complete isolation. I am nothing but a mere observer of this place. This body of my work is primarily isolation specific subject matter directly mirroring my own experience. Miraculously, the end result becomes the sharing and expressing of myself to the world through my own solitude, simplicity and joy.
8. Sim Chi Yin
Documentary photographer Sim Chi Yin is a fourth-generation overseas Chinese born and raised in Singapore, schooled in London and now based in Bejing, China. She is interested in exploring notions of history and memory, migration and transience. Her work has been shown in photography festivals around the world and has been published on TIME, The New York Times Magazine, National Geographic, Le Monde and The New Yorker. She was a Magnum Foundation Human Rights and Photography fellow in 2010, and a finalist for the W. Eugene Smith Grant in Humanistic Photography. Twice nominated for the Prix Pictet, she was listed in the Ones to Watch list by the British Journal of Photography in 2014 and was a World Press Photo jury member for documentary categories in 2016.
Dying to Breathe: Portraits is a series supported by grants from the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting that documents the lives of mine workers in rural China, who have become ill with “Black Lung” disease or pneumoconiosis, China’s most prevalent occupational sickness. Breathing in the dust from mining, the workers’ lungs become harder with time, making it difficult for them to breathe, and eventually leading to death. The only cure is an expensive lung transplant, which makes it virtually impossible for the workers to pursue.
Sim Chi Yin documented gold miner He Quangui’s slow death over four years, shooting portraits of Mr He’s compatriots and fellow miners through the years. The workers invariably pass away within months of shooting. She Faxue, portrayed here below, died in 2012 and was a fellow gold miner in Henan. He died of silicosis, which workers who deal with stone-cutting, jewellery-making or other forms of mining also get. However, medical reports show gold mine workers contract the disease with the shortest length of exposure and die most quickly and typically in their 30s, leaving behind young families that will have to feed themselves. Chinese state news organisations report that three times as many Chinese workers are dying from pneumoconiosis in recent years than the more commonly-reported mining accidents.
9. Emine Godze Sevim
Born in Istanbul in 1985, Emine Godze Sevim studied photography, sociology and international relations at Bard College in New York, graduating in 2008. During her studies she developed an interest in the convergence between film/video and photography, and she began experimenting with multimedia storytelling. Following graduation she was invited to work with various Magnum photographers and she assisted Susan Meiselas on the establishment of the Magnum Foundation NY. She was a grantee of the 2015 Magnum Foundation Emergency Fund, in support of her series Homeland Delirium, and was recognised as one of the 30 New and Emerging Photographers to Watch by PDN in 2016.
Homeland Delirium is a longterm documentary project that juxtaposes everyday life experience with the increasing violence on the streets. The series revolves around the public events that have been taking place since the 2013 Gezi Park protests in Istanbul and offer “an impressionistic depiction of an emotional thread in contemporary Turkey”.
The artist introduces the project with a poem that expresses the feelings of confusion mixed with fear and hope for the future in the face of what has been happening in the past few years in Turkey:
This is the hardest letter to write.
Words can’t do justice where justice has been abolished.
I try to hold onto my memories with photographs. It is the only way to paint this phantasmagoria we’ve been living in. Their prose born out of abstraction, to photograph is the only way I know how to exist.
As though forcefully we are being awoken from a dream, the more lucid we become, the more we face a nightmare.
Time loses all its sense. From one day to the next, I no longer know the difference.
In the stream of photographs, I wander through the landscapes to belong.
The more I want to belong, the more I am estranged. …
C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia
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