art of resistance, Morocco

Harry Gruyaert | Morocco.

par43959//all images  © Harry Gruyaert/Magnum Photos//

Just last year, a first English language monograph of Harry Gruyaert’s work was published. Gruyaert is a famous Magnum photographer, and for the last four decades he has managed to surprise the world of photography.

His work is never about stereotypical exoticism, and he treats all of his subjects and all of the countries he wanders around with his camera the same way.

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I like all of his work, especially the photos taken in Morocco between 1976 and 1988. Throughout most of those years Gruyaert worked out of a Volkswagen Kombi van, travelling from one place to the next, his cameras and equipment thrown in the back.

MOROCCO. Marrakech. In the medina (old district). 1981.

The way Gruyaert uses light, shapes and colors, transforms ordinary moments into art. The people in his photos get to keep their mystery, and that is a rare magic.

MOROCCO. Rif. Chechaouen. 1987. Street life in the Rif mountains. Walls are often painted in blue and white.

In an interview with the British Journal of Photography, Gruyaert said that he was always “interested in all the elements: the decor and the lighting and all the cars: the details were as important as humans”.

He captures people, but he also captures time, details, surroundings, context… It’s about humans being a part of, and not a whole.

MOROCCO. Essaouira. Ramparts & fortified walls of the city. 1976.

“It’s purely intuition. There’s no concept. Things attract me and it works both ways. I’m fascinated by the miracle where things come together in a way where things make sense to me, so there’s very little thinking”, Gruyaert explains.

To me, Gruyaert’s work is a wonderful way of taking in and capturing life, the way it is. He once said he discovered how to see – that might be the best way to describe what he does.

par44624//all images  © Harry Gruyaert/Magnum Photos//

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For more on Gruyaert and his work, go to his Magnum profile.

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art of resistance, Iran

Time Travel Booth: Iran In 1967.

iran8/photo © Mehdi Mahboubian/

The following photos were taken by Mehdi Mahboubian, Iranian scholar, art dealer, collector and lover of Persian culture.  He took them in 1967, on a trip from Tehran to Shiraz.

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His son Kourosh Mahboubian explains how his father took these photos because he wanted a record of the sights, people, and way of life he loved so much.  From the kabab man to the bazaris, to the washer woman, he captured everyday scenes in the life of every Iranian.

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Mahboubian writes: “At that time, Iranian society had reached a crossroads between the magic of its ancient culture and the forces of modernization. The country was happy and prosperous for a while, though change, for good or bad, would become inevitable.”

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//all photos © Mehdi Mahboubian//

You can see more photos and read the full story here.

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Previous Time Travel Booths:

Afghanistan by Paolo Woods

Middle East by Inge Morath

70’s and 80’s Sudan by Abbas Habiballa

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art of resistance, Iraq

Jamal Penjweny | Remembering Iraq’s Jews.

islamic-jewish-a1/art © Jamal Penjweny/

Iraqi-Kurdish photo artist Jamal Penjweny’s newest project envisions a new chapter in the history of Iraq’s Jews, written about on Mashallah News. It’s another great project by Penjweny.

In less than four years, from 1947 to 1951, most of Iraq’s Jews left their homes and moved to Israel. Their presence in Iraqi society has since been forgotten, intentionally or unintentionally, by many. But one man in Qal’at Saleh, a small town in south-eastern Iraq, keeps the memory alive.

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That man is the school manager, Ahmad – he kept the names, school records and photos of Jewish students. Penjweny writes about Ahmad’s mission:

“The memory of the community may be fading away, but some Iraqi Jewish names have not been erased. They are still here, recorded in the school books in Qal’at Saleh, along with their grades and their black and white photos. Portraits of children, once five feet high and 10 years old, who are today in their mid-60s, possibly living somewhere in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv or Haifa. Most of them probably do not know that in this small town in south-eastern Iraq, Ahmad is still keeping track of their names.”

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Read the full story and see all the photos on Mashallah News.

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Algeria, art of resistance

Kader Attia: Square Rocks | Rochers Carrés.

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Kader Attia is a French artist of Algerian descent. He grew where most migrants grow up in Paris – in banlieues, the suburbs of the city. Attia uses his experience of living as a part of two cultures as a starting point to develop a dynamic practice that reflects on aesthetics and ethics of different cultures.

His series Square Rocks (Rochers Carrés)  includes Algerians sitting on huge, jumbled concrete blocks at a beach in Algiers that locals call “rochers carrés” (square rocks). It’s a beach of Bab El Oued, a poor neighborhood in Algiers, where the government had erected these huge concrete blocks to prevent young men and women from taking boats across the Mediterranean sea to Europe.

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Photo installation by Attia presents an actual architectural structure that sets a boundary, a no-trespassing zone. In each photograph, you see one or two young men or teenagers gazing pensively at the Mediterranean and beyond, presumably toward Europe and its questionable promise of a better life.

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As Gregory Volk writes: “One man, viewed from behind, sits on a block’s sharp edge watching as two freighters pass by on the distant horizon. Two shirtless boys standing in slightly awkward teenage postures look half ready to do the impossible: dive into the sea and swim to Paris, spurred by fantasies of money, opportunities and glamour.”

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It’s been seven years since Attia took these photos. Yes, they’re still relevant. It’s hard to imagine they will stop being relevant anytime soon. There are millions of people sitting and waiting, still being allowed to do only that. And there are many Square Rocks, all over the world.

There are so many people still looking out to the horizon, seeing it as space limited, a wall, a boomerang. And yet, those walls, limitations, boomerangs, remain invisible to people looking from the other shore. They do not know, or don’t care enough to know, that the horizon has its ending. Behind the blue line, a square rock and people waiting.

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//all photos © Kader Attia//

For more on Kader Attia and his work, see his official website.

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art of resistance, Lebanon, Syria

The Art Of Mohammad Khayata.

khayataweb/Walking on Thread, photo via Mohammad Khayata website/

I was first introduced to Mohammad Khayata’s work while I was strolling down the streets of Beirut last November. On of his works (Walking on Thread) was exhibited in a gallery I passed by and it caught my eye immediately. I told myself I should remember his name and investigate more about his art when I come back home.

Khayata is a painter and a photographer, born in Damascus in 1985. His first solo exhibition was organized in Lebanon, three years ago.

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Khayata’s work is beautiful – it’s sensitive, powerful, thoughtful. In Bits and Pieces, he portrays symbols of what went on in Syria, combining stories and memories like a patched work stitched and tied to a canvas.

The images capture real life grief – from the portrait of a man wrapped in a patched quilt made of memories to another one disappearing into a patched quilt holding a suitcase in preparation to leave behind his world and life as he knew it.

He started from the captured moment, sketched it and finally gave birth to an entity painted on a canvas full of personal memories, feelings and passions to make visual the unspoken words.

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In Blue Period, Khayata starts from his brother’s story, “who filled a boat with his body and went far away for a new hope surrounded by whales, to smugglers who create creative ways to fill our bodies in tanks of chocolates and oil”.

The work is about the burden of our choices, how they are forced upon us, how it can all change our lives.

It is “about our choices that became rare, destiny that became like that of a fisherman who throws his hook in a sea of memories hoping his bate will catch possessing thread of power, or a suitcase to emigrate as far as you can get in this world, a bullet to kill or get killed by, or an empty bottle to lock and isolate yourself in”.

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Remember Khayata’s name, like I did that day when I passed by that little gallery. He is an artist whose compassion and tenderness goes a long way.

//all photos © Mohammad Khayata//

For more on Khayata’s work, visit his website.

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art of resistance, Iraq

Nawar Tamawi’s Instagram Guide To Iraq.

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Meet Nawar Tamawi. Tamawi always hated the way Hollywood portrayed Iraq – either as an eternal warzone or a desert full of camels and belly dancers. He started taking pictures, as a way of fighting against these narrow (mis)conceptions about his country.

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Tamawi says instagramming allowed him to explore Iraq in a way he hadn’t done before – “through the vintage alleys of Baghdad, the ancient streets of Babylon, holy sites in Najaf and Karbala, the old citadel in Erbil, and to the tip of Mesopotamia, where the rivers Tigris and Euphrates meet in Shatt Al Arab, near Basra.”

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He has set a goal for himself to capture the beauty of all eighteen provinces of Iraq – unfortunately, some of the places he wants to visit are still largely dried out and neglected. He writes how life in Iraq is getting more unbearable, day by day.

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Tamawi writes:  “More and more, I feel like an outsider in my own home. There’s constant chaos and uncertainty. People’s opinions aren’t respected. I don’t want to be part of a herd that is walking through its days with no control over anything that is happening around it.

Nowadays, I notice that I’m pulling out my phone camera less frequently. I feel that presenting Iraq in a beautiful light is disingenuous, that I’m fooling the audience. I feel like Iraq is fading away, overpowered by violence and sectarianism.”

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Tamawi is honest about his doubts, his fears. Still, he says that, when he looks at the photos taken so far, it gives him comfort – “but all the pictures are real, and when I look back at my shots, there is something reassuring in them, that a different Iraq is possible. That is why I take pictures of Iraq.”

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Tamawi also recommends some other Instagram accounts that you need to follow to see Iraq in a way most media outlets refuse to show. Read more about it here and be sure to go through and follow Tamawi’s Instagram profile.

//all photos © Nawar Tamawi//

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art of resistance, Iraq

The Option Of Last Resort: Iraqi Refugees.

ira8/photo © Gabriela Bulisova/

There is something special about Gabriela Bulisova’s photography. She documents wars, conflicts, exiles. Her subjects go through tragedies, they are extremely vulnerable and extremely powerful at the same time. Like the countries they come from, they are war-torn. Like the countries they come from, there’s more to them than just war.

The great thing about Bulisova’s photography is that she manages to capture the internal struggle – longing, desperation, sadness, void. It’s in the faces and movements of the people she portrays, but also in everything around them – light and the absence of light, unclear lines, shadows.

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In her series The Option of Last Resort Bulisova follows the stories of Iraqi refugees in United States. Why such a name for the project? For people who seek refugee status in America, the U.S. government offers resettlement as the “option of last resort” for the most vulnerable refugees.

“The masses of people displaced by the war in Iraq have become invisible and insignificant, overshadowed by other war-related events. Many of the displaced were the brains, the talent, the pride, the future of Iraq. Many of them, stigmatized by unforgettable violence, will never return to their homes”, Bulisova writes.

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Many of these refugees dreamed of America as a promised land, but the reality turned out to be very different from that. Once in the United States, they encounter the intricate, challenging, and often disillusioning process of transitioning to life in America.

“Many feel abandoned by the country they helped and risked their lives for; many are unemployed and facing dire financial crises; many yearn for the embrace of family and friends left behind; and many wish they could return home. Still fearful for their own safety and the safety of family members in Iraq, many refugees asked that I not reveal their faces or names”, Bulisova writes.

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“I want to feel like a human being again” is a sentence you can hear refugees repeating. It made me think of so many other refugee and exile stories – captured in stories, poems, novels. The same thought is present in all of them. Human being. To feel like a human being.

But for many – it just doesn’t seem to happen. There are no changes. They are, like Nadia Anjuman wrote – “lost in a sea of darkness, emptied of the thought of time, that eternal pit”. They are asking, like Mahmoud Darwish asked – “are we to remain like this, moving to the outside, in this orange day, only to touch the dark and vague inside?”

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In 2015, the escalation of armed conflict across the central governorates of Iraq, and the constantly changing security situation, resulted in new and secondary movements of internally displaced people across central Iraq and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

UNHCR reports that newly displaced people in Iraq find their limited financial resources quickly depleted by the increasing costs of accommodation and basic foods. The number of Iraqis seeking refuge in other countries is still rising and it will not stop, atleast not considering the (political) solutions we have so far.

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It makes me think of Riverbend, again and again. “In 2003, we were counting our lives in days and weeks. Would we make it to next month? Would we make it through the summer? Some of us did and many of us didn’t.

Back in 2003, one year seemed like a lifetime ahead. The idiots said, ‘Things will improve immediately.’ The optimists were giving our occupiers a year, or two… The realists said, ‘Things won’t improve for at least five years. And the pessimists? The pessimists said, ‘It will take ten years. It will take a decade'”, she wrote in 2013.

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Years went by, more than a decade passed. Iraq Body Count still counts the bodies, they still have a lot of work to do. The website says: Tuesday, 29 December: 36 killed. Monday, 28 December: 65 killed (30 children executed in Qayyarah).

Civilian deaths are almost doubling every year. What will the new year bring us? What will we bring to it? What will we do with all the possibilities? Can we make people feel like human beings again?

//all photos © Gabriela Bulisova//

For more on this and her other projects, visit Bulisova’s official website.

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