Light from the Middle East: New Photography

It seems as though you can’t escape politics when it comes to art exhibitions these days! This V&A show is so politically heavy you’d be forgiven for thinking you’ve switched on a news channel. Striking, shocking and sensational images provide the viewer with a harrowing reminder of the issues that still affect this region.

Starting with objective, photo-journal images by Abbas through to the emotive ‘Mothers of Martyrs’ series by Newsha Tavakolian, the first section of the exhibition, ‘Recording’, investigates how much truth there is in a photograph and how staged photographs can make as much influence during times of conflict. However, it was Mitra Tabrizian and Ahmed Mater’s work that stood out for me in particular. Tabrizian’s piece ‘Tehran 2006’ depicts ordinary people staged in the outskirts of the city with a giant billboard poster of the Ayatollah Khomeini towering over them. The expressions of the citizens looking somewhat lost, hopeless and lonely can surely only be seen as a comment on the current climate of their society.

Mater’s ‘Magnetism I & II’ at a quick glance seems like a standard aerial view of The Ka’ba but on closer inspection is a cleverly devised set up; a square magnet attracting atoms. This work successfully played on the viewers perception of what reality is and can be by using techniques such as, scaling to achieve the effect. Manipulating what is real and rebelling against photography being a truth leads us onto the second section of the exhibition, Reframing.

Using the past to comment on the present is a theme found within Shadi Ghadirian’s ‘Qajar’ series. The studio portraits aesthetics hark back to the Qajar period in the 19th Century but the inclusion of modern commodities is the artist’s attempt to portray the struggle of Iranian women today. Unsure of their identity in an ever changing globalized world, they are torn between tradition and modernity.

Shadi Ghadirian, ‘Qajar’ series. 1998. Source:

The final section to the exhibition, Resisting, depicts how photographer’s manipulate their images in order for it to be difficult to interpret and thus demonstrating the fragility of photographs. Joana Hadijthomas’ postcard like images of Beirut is a great example of this. Distorting negatives to create a dream like effect of what once was, the resulting image seems to dissolve away in front of the viewer.

What I found myself questioning was whether this exhibition changed any of my perceptions I had of the Middle East? War torn landscapes, the in-equality of women and heavy doses of politics for me did not portray anything new. It became slightly repetitive and let the show down. Of course, these issues still prevail and affect the Middle East, that cannot be ignored but I was expecting more. The works that did standout for me were the ones that could successfully incorporate social issues along with strong aesthetics.

Light from the Middle East: New Photography is running until the 7th April at the V&A Museum. Admission is free and more information can be found here.


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