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- Category: Art
The exhibition itself shows a wide array of photographic images that are haunting and thought provoking, garnering a view of what daily life is like for Iraqi woman in American occupied Iraq. Previous to the workshop and exhibition, the only visual documentations of those experiences were generated by the media, often limited to photographs from American armed forces and random shots taken with an ambiguous and non-descript sense of place. All these images seemed to have existed at a “30,000 feet” level and did not zero in on life at ground level. There existed no witness to daily life and what the people left living in the destruction riddled cities of Iraq have had to endure in order to survive.
The exhibit is made up nine photographic essays each with a different social station in Iraqi society. The women were instructed on proper camera use by Dolburg and were shown the work of various photographers as a means of educating them on aesthetics and photographic techniques. After one month of intensive instruction, Dolberg then sent the women back to their respective homes with the purpose of creating photo essays. Each essay is different from the next, yet all have an overarching theme of uneasiness and tension.
One particular essay comes from the daughter of one of the workshop participants, Dima. The essay titled Friendship, taken in her home city of Baghdad, depicts Dima’s attempt to live a normal childhood, playing with her friends and living in the home she loves with her mother; yet the subset of issues that are exposed in her photographs cut to the core of the issues going on in Baghdad. What was once a vibrant community is now empty and filled with fear. One photo that captures an image1 of her friend Nour standing in front of her family’s home is coupled with a caption (dictated by Dima to her mother) which reads “This is a picture of my friend Nour in front of Nazaline and Aya’s house. They are not here anymore. I don’t want to take pictures about sad things. I don’t want to say whose house this is, or where they went or why. If I do, the picture won’t be beautiful.” The complexity of emotion expressed by such a young girl takes the viewer back and stirs up deep sympathy and sorrow for Dima and her mother.
Another essay featured in the exhibition was created by a woman named Raya, and is titled Mutanbi Street, Baghdad, Stripped. The images contained in this essay are taken in black and white and show a close inspection of the destruction of cultural and social landmarks in Baghdad. One image stands out above the rest, an image of a man silhouetted by rays of light coming into the room he is in. There is a gaping hole caused form an explosion which reveals the different layers of concrete and rebar that comprise the architectural composition of the structure. Rubble and debris fill the walk-able spaces of the building and render movement inside the space impossible. This image serves to remind us of the feeling of being immobile in Iraq – that there is debris around every turn hampering fluidity and circulation.
The overall feeling that the viewer of the exhibit receives is one of voyeurism and shame; yet we are concurrently met with the dichotomy of empowerment and pride for these women. The work conveys a sense of relief and release from its creators, a hopeful moment in which these Iraqi women were allowed a moment of catharsis to release their feelings of anger, fear, and loss and to express their desire for a return to normalcy. These women were able to capture their experiences and identity by living in Damscus for a short time. Being Iraqi Diaspora for that moment gave them the space to explore their thoughts and relay their life stories without the fear of judgment or death threats – an all too familiar reality for them in Iraq.
Open Shutters Iraq – a title that refers on one level to the camera shutter yet also resonates on a deeper level- is an exhibition that opens the figurative doors for the trapped men, women and children who currently reside in the violent sphere of American occupied Iraq, letting in the air for catharsis and dialogue. The photography workshop was concurrently captured as a documentary film of the same title by Iraqi/British director Maysoon Pachachi. Straying from the typical western documentary (a slick and refined presentation), and replacing it with a raw and unpolished film which doesn’t impose meaning, Pachaci has allowed the filmgoer to interpret the story for themselves without a premeditated agenda.By Erin Joyce, Aslan Media Art Editor
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