As part of the collective photography exhibition Rawiya, She Who Tells A Story, the Montreal-based artist Tamara Abdul Hadi will be showing works from her project, Self Portraits from Inside Palestine.
Tamara Abdul Hadi’s interactive project, where the marginalised and repressed citizens of Palestine were offered the opportunity to take a photographic self-portrait, reflect her ideas about how people imagine themselves, whether they have an ability to control their own image and who they truly are? The results are fascinating, beautiful and ultimately humane. Here we ask the artist about the story and philosophy behind the amazing results in pictures and film.
Were the subjects of your pictures suspicious of what you were trying to do and how did you choose who to include and how to approach them?
I did not approach people, they approached the camera. I set up the camera on a tripod near a busy street and just waited for people’s curiosity to bring them over. Once they came over, I explained the project to them. Once the first person did it, others started coming.
Did you catalogue any information about your subjects’ lives and if not, why did you decide to simply represent them through a photograph?
I chose to simply represent them through a photograph because that’s what people decided to leave me with.
If people take an image of themselves, do you think that’s how they want other people to see them and how much control do they have over this?
I had spent some time in a few refugee camps in Palestine and noticed that its residents were always being photographed. I was inspired to flip that idea and give them the chance to decide, in that moment, how they want to be seen, or how they want to see themselves in an image. So I think it’s a bit of both.
The images portray a degree of humour – would you agree with that and if so, why do you think people manage to find joy even when they’re so marginalised and repressed?
I do find that there is a degree of humour in the images, but I think that solely comes from them as human beings as opposed to being marginalised or repressed. I would say that people can find joy in any given situation. As human beings, we are resilient and no matter what we are going through at the time, we can always find beauty in the smallest of things.
What made you decide to relocate to Ramallah in 2009?
I had the opportunity to be part of an art therapy programme taking place in Bethlehem in late 2009 and it was my first time travelling to Palestine. I could not get myself to leave after that – I decided to stay and work on some projects, while taking the opportunity to get to know the real Palestine. At the same time, I got a job with the UNRWA teaching photography to young Palestinian women at a vocational college, which in turn, was like a one year art therapy programme.
You worked as a photojournalist before you taught photography. Did you discover that working as a journalist created any particular misconceptions about marginalised groups of people?
Working as a photojournalist gave me the chance to get to know the Arab world on a personal level and that’s what drove me to work on projects documenting people that I felt were underrepresented.
You’ve taught photography to other marginalised communities. Do you think photography has any distinct benefits or do you see it as another artistic outlet for people to express themselves?
Photography is a great tool in building self-expression, but in terms of artistic outlets, the same can be said for poetry, music, painting and drama. I believe art therapy is vital to personal growth and is valuable in underrepresented communities.
In terms of representation of your subject matter – what are you ultimately trying to achieve?
I’m simply documenting things that inspire something in me.
Exhibition: Rawiya She Who Tells A Story photo exhibition from September 9 to October 16 at Gulf Photo Plus, Alserkal Avenue, Al Quoz (04 380 8545).
Artist: Tamara Abdul Hadi
Prices: On request