Of all the assumptions about the Arab world, “maybe the most insulting is the idea that women from our region are oppressed, and therefore weak, backwards and cannot think for themselves,” Yemeni photographer Boushra Almutawakel says. “Yes, there are cases of oppression for sure, yet in spite of it all I feel women from our part of the world are strong and resilient, and we are intelligent, and can speak for ourselves.” Ten of Almutawakel’s works — among them a series of portraits of a mother, her young daughter and her daughter’s doll increasingly veiled until they fade into the black background — appear as part of the National Museum of Women in the Arts’ newest exhibition, “She Who Tells a Story: Women Photographers from Iran and the Arab World.” Running through the end of July, the show features 83 photographs and one video installation by a dozen contemporary female artists, each exploring stereotypes in her own way.
“Actively avoiding offensive stereotypes is pretty much one of the most important things I could do,” Moroccan-born, New York-based photographer Lalla Essaydi says. “I take on art history writ large, undermining European artists’ objectifying and exoticizing representations of North African women.” Essaydi used thousands of bullet casings to create “Bullets Revisited #3.” The triptych turns “the domestic space into a psychological one, charged with contemporary realities,” she says. The text on the woman’s skin is deliberately indecipherable, Essaydi says, to challenge “the European assumption that text constitutes the best access to reality.”