In an essay here, cultural critic and curator Negar Azimi articulates a singular problem of being a photographer in the Arab Middle East. "Taswir" (or picture making), according to many Arab scholars, is prohibited by Muslim law, thus the "notorious In an essay here, cultural critic and curator Negar Azimi articulates a singular problem of being a photographer in the Arab Middle East. "Taswir" (or picture making), according to many Arab scholars, is prohibited by Muslim law, thus the "notorious adage 'mamnous el taswir' (forbidden to photograph) . . . Exists in ubiquitous fashion, seemingly at every turn of the photographer's visual field." Keeping that in mind makes this unprecedented and multifaceted view of the Arab world as seen through the eyes of 56 Arab and Western photographers, the only current survey of its kind, an especially stimulating collection. Western readers will be introduced to multiple generations of photographers (male and female) previously little known outside the Middle East. Originally assembled for the highly acclaimed exhibition Nazar at the Noorderlicht Festival in the Netherlands, these pictures comprise the largest compilation of Arab photographs ever exhibited in the West. Covering both documentary and fine art photography and ranging from North Africa to Lebanon and Palestine, from Iraq to Syria and Saudia Arabia, this book will open an often shuttered world. For example, Nadia Benchallal, who has assisted Annie Liebowitz and Arthur Elgort, offers black-and-white portraits of people who straddle Algerian-French culture, and Randa Shaath has recorded, from her high-rise apartment in Cairo, the lives of a shadow society of rooftop dwellers in the city. Nazar, which means "seeing, insight, reflection" in Arabic, challenges preconceptions and reveals a complexity of Arab life not glimpsed on the nightly news.
Produced from the Noorderlicht Photofestival's Nazar show (Netherlands, 2004) and released in conjunction with Nazar's re-exhibition in New York this September, this volume of 300 photographs aims to show the realities that lie "behind the newspaper headlines" about the Arab world. Of course, no compendium could ever fully represent the region's 22 countries and myriad cultures, but this well-selected volume remains illuminating nonetheless. Particularly strong is the first section, "Arab Eyes," which displays the work of 25 Arab photographers, many of whom use fine art photo techniques, like collage, to drive home sophisticated conceptual points. Youssef Nabil of Egypt, for example, refracts queer couplings through commercial visual tropes to produce images that are complex and challenging. And Hicham Benohoud of Morocco mines the sometimes alluring, sometimes frightening otherness of childhood by staging surrealist photographs of children in schoolrooms. In contrast, the book's final section, "Western Eyes," seems rather prosaic since many of its 25 Western contributors serve up now-familiar images of war, poverty and veils in a straightforward documentary manner. The book also presents several lean but engaging essays. Among the most interesting is Michket Krifa's argument that Western curators have long avoided the study and circulation of the Arab region's rich work by hiding behind the false idea that, due to various political repressions, Arab photographers produce little contemporary art. (Sept.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.