A few weeks ago I met Amira Al-Sharif in the Balie in Amsterdam. The
meeting gave me quite a headache. How can I, as a Dutch curator
from Amsterdam, judge pictures of a Yemeni photographer from Sanaa?
From the newspapers I know that since early 2011 the situation
there is unstable; from the director of Human Rights Watch I know
it is a beautiful country that has everything; from Al-Sharif I
know there is hardly any photographic tradition. That's my frame of
reference, along with a bucket of knowledge of Western photography.
What else can I do but look at the work of Al-Sharif, listen to her
stories and then try to put it in context?
Al-Sharif has been photographing since she was eight and has
taught herself the 'rules'. Friends asked her to capture memorable
events and so she became more and more adept. She went to college
and then to work as a journalist. In addition, she made pictures
for the Ministry of Tourism. With help from photographer Stephanie
Sinclair she spent one year at the ICP in New York and
afterwards returned to a very restless country. Initially she was
asked to make pictures for the ministry again, but the situation
made her decide to start making news photos. The country had
changed and she wanted to visualize it. She developed a critical
attitude towards the president, but also the opposition.
Technically and compositionally, many of Al-Sharif pictures are
perfect. Some of them I find a bit too National Geographic-style.
But she also has wonderful images. Powerful images of women until
recently hidden in male-dominated Yemeni society. If you look at
the series, Women of Yemen, you'll see what I mean.
Her woman-hood is also expressed, but in a different way, in a
series on Friday prayers in Yemen on September 9, 2011. Since
Al-Sharif as a woman cannot get close to the praying men the
pictures are taken from a roof were she could hide herself. This
perspective provides a rich palette of prayer rugs. Another picture
is taken from a high position as well. A sea of men in white and in
the top left a tuft of women in black. Al-Sharif turns the
limitations of her freedom as a woman into effective