Wasma Mansour – Single Saudi Women

Wasma Mansour was born in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in 1980 and is now a London-based photographer in the process of completing a practice-based research degree at the London College of Communication. Her photographic practice focuses on ‘human to space’ relationships; this research project specifically explores the construction and reflection of the multiple identities of single Saudi women through the medium of their own private spaces and possessions.

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Since 2008, my photography explored the spatial and material constructions of Saudi women who do not fit the stereotype: women who have chosen to live alone despite their belonging to a culture where male presence, shaping lives and spaces, is the norm. Pictorial conventions in mass media exhibited recurring visual tropes that stereotype and limit Saudi women to being placed under two categories: she is either passive, docile and therefore in crisis, or defiant, rebellious and consequently liberated. The women I’ve met and photographed revealed a complex set of negotiations made to reconcile with their identities and assert their sense of individualism. My work interrogates these two polar existences by showing that the participants exist and function in a wide area between them.

It could be argued by some that my choice of apparatus is politically motivated. Especially since issues concerning Saudi women’s visibility have been a subject of heated debates of two opposing and equally hegemonic headings: ‘liberation’ and ‘domination’. I should clarify that the position I hold both as photographer and citizen belongs to neither camps. The hope and aim of my project from the outset is to bring forth an alternative, and more encompassing, view of what it means to be a single Saudi woman.

This group is of particular interest for visual enquiry, and unlike previous attempts utilized to ‘interrogate’ Saudi women, I considered the potential a multi faceted approach, by giving the women I’ve met and worked the opportunity to discuss and reveal their identities through their narratives, their spaces and their things. My personal investment in this endeavor was encouraged by the diversity of experiences I have encountered. And to illustrate that even through photography, I was able to capture the many realities and the plentiful negotiations that are worked out on a daily basis. The challenge was to aesthetically narrate the multifarious ways in which Saudi women assert their subjectivity. And to create images from interacting with their worlds. The objective, therefore, has been (and still remains) to represent that rich world in a plethora of settings and spaces, and hope to transmit some of its texture and flavor.

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“In order to protect the women’s identities, I chose to photograph them with their backs facing the camera. A few participants revealed that they did not mind being identified, but did not insist on this. Like stated earlier, I took the decision to anonymize all participants as a precautionary measure. This stems from my awareness of some negative possibilities, even though minimal, that might happen due to the future outlet of my work. Furthermore, I explained the avenues that will use these photographs, starting with publishing them online to discuss my process on my site titled ‘fieldnotes’.”

 

 

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“The Homes series explore the other aspects of Saudi women’s lives that relate to their dwellings and things. Their creation was predominantly inspired by the women’s accounts of their lives in the United Kingdom. The photographs respond to the narrativities that are traced from their objects. My interest is to survey how much of their previous gender-related Saudi identities would surface, and to what degree do these women transgress their identities.”

 

 

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Within a Middle Eastern context, a commodity such as a veil has been very powerful, becoming transfixed as a symbol synonymous with oppression, backwardness, weakness etc. In reality, however, it might be a personal choice (e.g. Egypt), a religious duty (e.g. Iran), a socio-religious obligation (e.g. Saudi Arabia), or a sign of resistance (e.g. Algeria). Common visual tropes inextricably link the veil to the Saudi woman. And yet for the women I worked with, the veil is something they own but do not use.

shareFor more images and all the parts of the project visit www.wmansour.com. Wasma Mansour is also looking for Single Saudi Women to be part of the project.

“This exploration ranges from photographing their personal spaces such as homes and offices, possessions such as clothes and household objects and an anonymised personal portrait. However, there are other ways to take part and that is by submitting your experience as a single Saudi woman. These could take any form and length you like. They could range from short declarations to lengthy descriptive narratives. They could also be metaphoric or literal. The choice is yours.”

Click the image for more details.