Inside Steve McCurry’s 7 Princesses

Examining the Emirates at The Empty Quarter’s 7 Princesses exhibition

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The UAE is the central focus of a new exhibition titled ‘7 Princesses’ at The Empty Quarter in DIFC.

On display until April 16, the photography exhibition is a collaboration between the gallery and international award-winning American photographer Steve McCurry. The series of photographs celebrate the lives and achievements of modern Emirati women. ‘We want to give a clear vision of the UAE – the landscape of its seven emirates and the power of the women of them, which is why it is called “7 Princesses”,’ says Safa Al Hamed, managing partner of The Empty Quarter.

The images were captured in November last year over a period of two weeks by McCurry. Each one shows an Emirati women who is in some way inspirational and who plays a crucial role in the culture and society of the UAE. ‘We chose to include the images of women who come from royalty as well as the simple woman who is a housewife. You will see the businesswoman, the pilot, the woman who opened a school for the disabled and the woman who fights to protect against the abuse of other women,’ Al Hamed says.

A snapshot of scenes across the UAE is captured in each image, from fishing harbours and creeks to the barren landscape of the desert, the beauty of the mountains and the vibrant Dubai cityscape. ‘I want people to really see what the UAE has to offer and then to come and see it for themselves. The country is a peaceful one and it is open and modern, but we still respect our culture and religion. We welcome everyone,’ Al Hamed continues. In celebration of the strong international cultural presence in the country, the gallery chose to work with a western photographer, and this was a project McCurry had a lot of fun with. ‘I enjoyed shooting in the Middle East. The challenge we faced with this series was in making sure we had a different type of landscape in each of the images and that each one was unique in representing the individual women,’ he explains. The photographer shot the images from morning to night, talking to each of the models about their lives and achievements in order to learn from them.

‘The only Emirati woman I knew before the project was Safa Al Hamed. But afterwards I really saw that women are doing a lot for their society in the UAE, playing an important role in supporting healthcare and education,’ he says.

Highlighting the reality of life, culture and society in the UAE, the exhibition is a first for the country. McCurry’s images will also be shown around the world. ‘We are trying to move past the stereotypical view of Arab women through this presentation. They play a vital and productive role in society in the region. I think it is more important to recognise women for their achievements, and this project does exactly that,’ McCurry says. Al Hamed credits the photographer as among the gallery’s best in the art form and she hopes that the project will give all cultures a chance to explore and understand the role of the women of her country. ‘McCurry is the king of light. I am delighted to work with him on this project because he has his own unique way of telling stories and bringing images to life.’

The exhibition features iconic symbols and landmarks known to the UAE, such as the Burj Khalifa, a falcon – the country’s national bird – and images of the desert and camels, and it will no doubt give viewers a greater insight into the Emirates.
Open Sun-Thu 10am-8pm. Until April 16. The Empty Quarter, Gate Village 2, DIFC (04 323 1210).

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