The Light From the Middle East is Victoria & Albert Museum’s photographic exhibition held between 13/11/2012 and 07/04/2013, celebrating works of 30 artists from a geographical distribution covering North Africa and Central Asia. The exhibition is aiming to confront social and political challenges of the Middle East and it is divided into 3 sections:
For the purpose of this review I have concentrated on the “recording” section.
The series by Abbas depicting the events following the Iranian Revolution of 1979 serve to document the actual events for the future generations. The recording of visual information is not always accurate as demonstrated by Tal Shochet’s series of fruit trees. She uses studio portraiture techniques to photograph, as she puts it, “the perfect specimen”. She dusts individual leaves and fruits of the tree and uses a black backdrop and illuminates the scene with artificial lighting to capture what she wants to see.
Ahmed Mater further explores this concept of reliability of a photograph in his “Magnetism” series where he uses a cube magnet and surrounds it with iron shavings to represent the Kaabah and thousands of pilgrims that visit it.
There are a variety of pieces that highlight the contrast of mentality, concepts and even gender roles in the Middle East. Mehramen Atashi’s “Bodiless 1” is a very good example of this. She photographs a dominant male figure and uses a mirror to be included in the frame to play with the irony of being in an Iranian wrestling gym- a place that even forbids the breath of a woman.
It would be completely unexpected not to have pieces that make a political statement. “Halabche” by Abbas Kowari, which aims to highlight the almost impossible juxtaposition of the popular culture portrayed by the black and white printed t-shirt of Bryan Adams, worn by a peshmerga, with war. The torso of the combatant is saturated with weapons and is surrounded by a desert and blue skies- densely saturated with colour. The absence of the protagonist’s face in the frame makes a political statement that he or she has no control over what is happening and even whether or not they are considered an individual.
The exhibition was visually pleasing despite some expected and almost clichéd images. It may make some of the viewers confused as they explore the different styles of photography ranging from journalism and fine art but I enjoyed being able to see side by side the different style of photography with a unifying message that social and political challenges in the Middle East is a long way away from being resolved.