Sama Alshaibi

In Residence: Jan 23 – Mar 25, 2019

Exhibition: Mar 21 – May 20, 2019

Tell us about the title of your exhibition.

“Until Total Liberation” is an often-used slogan in Palestinian revolutionary politics and is seen in a number of Palestinian Liberation Organization posters. Over the last 100 years or so, Middle Eastern women in photography, postcards, newsreel cinema, and other images perpetuate the idea of a very singular struggle with patriarchal oppression. These representations and their narrow focus in no way address the complexity and diversity of the Middle Eastern experience, let alone the female experience. Middle Eastern women do not merely bear the burden of representation, but also actively and currently, struggle with access, security, displacement, socio-economic mobility, and very simply, human rights. The title enforces that until, as a people, we are afforded the same human rights as our Western counterparts, we will never truly, and fully, be liberated. It also provides an intersectional moment in its reference to universal women’s experiences in general.

What do you want viewers to take away from your exhibition?

Historically, Middle Eastern and North African women were portrayed from the Western perspective as exotic, sexual temptresses, or the “other” making them of objects of desire but also revulsion. Featuring myself as the protagonist, the photographs suggest colonial-era photographs and contemporary imagery popularized through the media, but ultimately act as an artistic intervention from a Palestinian Iraqi female’s perspective. Representation of female slaves, the sultan’s harem, the mashrabiya (an Arabic architecture element of homes also mistakenly referred to as a “harem’s window” in English), water pipe and water vessel were part of a non-ambiguous strategy of staging otherness.

Appropriating film rushes made between 1935–1955 by the British Pathé, the video addresses the early period in which motion picture “newsreel” cinema was popular in the West. Their depictions of Middle Eastern women and their lifestyles are reframed to magnify the problematic nature of their reporting. These film rushes are interwoven with footage of myself as live, human water feature in the tradition of human sculpture as a water fountain often found in public spaces or traffic circles.

All of the works in the exhibition make reference to the presentation and representation of women, some more directly, like those in the studio space, and some refer to an absence, as in the sculpture on the roof. The sculpture is out in the public sphere just as the iconic fountain Kahramana, by Mohammed Ghani Hikmat, it references in Baghdad, Iraq. The fountain depicts a scene from Ali Babba and the 40 thieves, in which a sharp slave girl (Marjanah) outwits the 40 thieves reflecting the ingenuity and self-reliance of women, even under physical danger. The sculpture on the roof here at Artpace is separate materially from the rest of the exhibition, so it’s displaced. The silhouetted figure calls attention to the invisibility of Iraqi women who have disappeared or been assassinated since 2003.

Ultimately, I’m confronting our image-history through a feminist and postcolonial lens. The project is an implicit critique of the social exploitation generated over a century, while disrupting the paradigm through a strategy of assigning power through the female body and narration of her stage.

The artist wishes to thank all those who contributed to UNTIL TOTAL LIBERATION, including:

Mohammed Ghani Hikmat; Patrick Kay, Cruz Ortiz & Lenzy Mora / Snakehawk Press; Aaron Coleman; Mark Menjivar; Khulood Badawi; Carlton Bradford; Janet Flohr & Gary Nichols / Hare and Hound Press; Ray Lynch / King of Neon; Jennifer Ling Datchuk; Roshini Kempadoo; Dr. Deborah Willis; Arab Fund for Arts and Culture; Anthony Rundblade; Michael Foerster; Charles Kitchen; Chris Castillo; Leticia Rocha-Zivadinovic; Riley Robinson; Conor Fitzgerald; Zakiriya Gladney; Mahmood Gladney; Marvin Gladney; Michael Fadel; Maha Cantelo; Rose Tadaro; University of Arizona; Imane Saliba & Nadine Saliba; Alex Turner; Brian Ganter; and Ayyam Gallery.

Download Gallery Notes PDF for UNTIL TOTAL LIBERATION


Sama Alshaibi

Tucson, Arizona, USA

Sama Alshaibi (b. Basra, Iraq, 1973), is a multi-media artist who employs the use of photography, video/object hybrids, and installation. Alshaibi’s practice explores spaces of conflict, post-war and migration to tease out issues of citizenship and power. Frequently featuring herself as a protagonist within her works she applies the body as an allegorical device to investigate geographical metaphors that exist between spaces of political and social oppression. Alshaibi’s monograph, Sama Alshaibi: Sand Rushes In (New York: Aperture, 2015) presents her Silsila series, which probes the human dimensions of migration, borders, and environmental demise. Silsila was exhibited at the 55th Venice Biennale (Venice, 2013), the Honolulu Biennale (Hawaii, 2017), Marta Herford Museum (Germany, 2017), and the Qalandia International Biennial (Haifa, 2016). Her 15 solo exhibitions include Silsila (Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell University, NY, 2017 and Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, Arizona, 2016), Collapse (Ayyam Gallery, Dubai, 2015), and Sand Rushes In (Ayyam Gallery, London, 2015).
Alshaibi is Professor and Co-Chair of Photography, Video & Imaging at University of Arizona, Tucson, where she was granted the title “1885 Distinguished Scholar”. She received a Visual Arts Grant by the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture in 2017, the Arizona Commission on the Arts “Visual Arts Grant” in 2018 and was awarded a Fulbright Scholar Fellowship (2014-2015) as part of a residency at the Palestine Museum in Ramallah.
Her group exhibitions include Tucson Museum of Art (Arizona), CCS Bard Hessel Museum & Galleries (Bard College, NY), Museum De Wieger (Netherlands), the 2014 FotoFest International Biennial (Houston and Abu Dhabi), and the Museum of Contemporary Art (Denver). Her video artworks and films have screened in numerous film festivals internationally. Her works have been collected by public institutions and collectors internationally. She has been featured in Art Asia Pacific, NY Times, Ibraaz, Bluin Artinfo, Contemporary Practices, Harpar’s Bazaar, The Guardian, CNN, Huffington Post and Hysteria. She received a MFA in Photography, Video, and Media Arts from the University of Colorado at Boulder (2005).
Alshaibi is represented by Ayyam Gallery in Dubai, UAE.
Photo courtesy of the artist

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Deborah Willis

New York, New York, USA

Deborah Willis, Ph.D, is University Professor and Chair of the Department of Photography & Imaging at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University and has an affiliated appointment with the College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Social & Cultural Analysis, Africana Studies, where she teaches courses on Photography & Imaging, iconicity, and cultural histories visualizing the black body, women, and gender. Her research examines photography’s multifaceted histories, visual culture, the photographic history of Slavery and Emancipation; contemporary women photographers and beauty. She received the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellowship and a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship. Willis is the author of Posing Beauty: African American Images from the 1890s to the Present; and co-author of The Black Female Body A Photographic History; Envisioning Emancipation: Black Americans and the End of Slavery; and Michelle Obama: The First Lady in Photographs (both titles a NAACP Image Award Winner). Professor Willis’s curated exhibitions include: “In Pursuit of Beauty” at Express Newark; “Let Your Motto Be Resistance: African American Portraits” at the International Center of Photography and “Reframing Beauty: Intimate Moments” at Indiana University. Since 2006 she has co-organized thematic conferences exploring imaging the black body in the West such as the conference titled Black Portraiture[s] which was held in Johannesburg in 2016. She has appeared and consulted on media projects including documentary films such as Through A Lens Darkly and Question Bridge: Black Males, a transmedia project, which received the ICP Infinity Award 2015, and American Photography, PBS Documentary.

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