Amira Al Awadhi, 22, uses self-portraiture in her series, UNWIND, to explore her self-identity through creating haunting multiple exposed photographs using her analogue camera. She spends most of her time in the darkroom trialling different materials and methods, making it a more "tangible" photographic experience through her process. Amira is a Dubai-born and Sharjah-raised Emirati. Currently, she is living in Sharjah finishing her BA in Fine Arts where she later also plans to find work.
Amira is one of the few Emirati photographers who works in the darkroom. Every photograph becomes unique in its own way and she uses her method as a channel to explore her insecurities. When she's not creating art, she's out seeking inspiration by visiting art galleries as much as she can, listening to good music and draws every once in a while. In our second instalment of our interview series here on BANAT, I find out more about her work process as well as her opinion on feminism in Arab culture.
What are some of the themes that you explore in your work?
When I first started creating my self-portrait series, the theme was about the depth of people’s personalities in general but as I started working on my second self-portrait series, Unwind, I focused more on myself, as an introverted young girl growing up in a somewhat strict and judgmental society. My work soon became very personal, talking about insecurities and my ways to cope with them.
I am interested that you have chosen your 'insecureness' as a main theme in your work and using art as a tool to explore yourself. How do you feel about putting that in the forefront of your work given that it's something so personal?
It was definitely hard. When I first created Unwind, I didn’t think that it would get this personal, and I think everyone could see it except for me. When it came time to write a statement about it, I struggled and kept going in circles about the process and the technique, and my teachers kept pressing on about the concept.
After a lot of crying, I went home and typed out a rough statement, admitting in it that my insecurities were the main theme. It’s not easy talking about your insecurities especially when you’re the subject of your own work.
What do you love about analogue photography?
I was never a photographer but I fell in love with the process of developing film and printing it. I came to adore the intimacy of the darkroom where it was only me, my art and my music. I also loved the tangibility of it, handling the fragile film rolls and prints in the isolated privacy of the darkroom.
Tell me about what's involved in your process to create a final piece.
My goal is to create as many layers as possible between the self-portrait and the viewer, it’s my way of putting a wall up. So first, I sandwich two or three layers of negatives, and enlarge them onto light-sensitive darkroom paper. I layer it with an acetate sheet which is covered in salt grains and water droplets to create an obscured effect. After the print is ready, I frame it and the glass of the frame is the last layer. And finally, I like to create an intimate environment for the viewer, like add walls to surround the place and paint them all black. Creating an experience for the viewer is important.
Is there a reason your photographs are reflected through the mirror?
It gives me more room to play with the composition of the photo, rather than having a tripod to hold my camera. I also use the camera to hide behind it sometimes. And kind of a tongue-in-cheek for the selfie culture.
What do you think it means to be a creative from the UAE?
The art scene is still young in the UAE, so it’s a great time for being a creative and an artist from the UAE because it means the opportunity will easily find you. Yet, the society still has a very traditional mindset about art and is not as accepting of new, outside-the-box ideas. So it’s a fun challenge.
What is feminism to you and how does it play a role in your life?
Feminists are unfortunately always viewed as angry, man-hating women in our society, but they miss the fact that feminism is about EQUALITY (with an emphasis, because no one seems to understand that). I’ve talked to girls who think that we don’t need feminism in the Middle East because it’s a western ideology that cannot be applied here, and that makes me so frustrated.
Obviously, as a woman, it saddens me to see that we always have a lesser chance than men in succeeding in any field. Not because men are better, but because most fields and industries give men more opportunities than they give to women. Art is always seen as a “girl hobby” but when it comes to successful artists, we always remember and name male artists, and I hope we can change that someday.
There is definitely a stigma around feminism in Islamic and even Arab Culture. How do you feel we can create more awareness about the importance of feminism in the Middle East?
We could create feminist campaigns, choosing inspiring Middle Eastern women to be the face of it, who could go to schools and universities to talk to young girls about the importance of feminism and what feminism has accomplished for us women through history.
Who/What is the inspiration behind your work?
Mexican painter, Frida Kahlo, is my favorite artist of all time, and I’ve never thought about this before but answering this question made me realize that we both do self-portraits. So I have to give her credit for the influence.
Other inspiration sources are Ammar Al Attar, Emirati analogue photographer who develops his own film, and Duane Michals whose pictures always take my breath away and I aspire to have the same effect on other people with my photos.
What do you see in BANAT that appeals to you?
The combination of art, supporting young creatives, and feminism has got to be what got me really excited about BANAT.
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