We are often confronted with perceptions of Arab women as subordinate or passive, while Arab men are frequently viewed as macho or aggressive. While many photographers have portrayed contemporary Arab women and given them a voice, scant attention has been paid to the evolution of masculinity in the region.
Tamara Abdul Hadi decided to tackle stereotypes of Arab men with an ambitious project called “Picture an Arab”. She is an Iraqi-Canadian photographer whose work deals with social change and deconstructing stereotypes. A co-founder of the photography collective Rawiya, her photography has been published in newspapers like The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Guardian. This personal project is a work in progress and Tamara is calling for financial support on the crowdfunding website emphas.is for funding visual journalism.
Stereotypes imposed on Arab people, in this case Arab men, have been longstanding.
What are the Western stereotypes of Arab men?
Arab men have been stereotyped in the West for a very long time through films, literature, theatre, news etc. They are branded as hypermasculine, violent and dangerous. The word terrorist is used a lot, especially in Western media.
You started working on the project in 2009. What made you decide to tackle the topic? Did you already have the idea to cover all Arab countries?
After years of working as a photojournalist, I started working on my own projects and my interest immediately turned to portraiture. I think this topic is timely, whether it would have been done ten years ago or today. Stereotypes imposed on Arab people, in this case Arab men, have been longstanding. After starting to work on this project, I realised it would not be complete without representing all the Arab countries.
To challenge stereotypes you could have shot Arab men in their daily life as well. Why did you choose this particular aesthetic approach?
I wanted to present these men in a light in which they are not usually seen. I wanted to portray them as gentle beings, which I believe is a stark contrast to the way they are usually represented in Western media.
I wanted to portray the men as gentle beings, a stark contrast to the way they are usually represented in Western media.
You worked for several Western media in the region. Were you frustrated with the difference between what is published and the reality on the ground?
Though there are exceptions when it comes to Western media in the region, there is no doubt that there has been a gap between the way much of the region has been represented and the realities of the societies and cultures that exist. It is worth mentioning that stereotypes are being broken through the kind of work that is coming out of the Middle East through its own journalists and photographers, who are representing their own cultures and societies.
But you also want to question the representations of masculinity within Arab societies. How do you think your work can have an impact?
Yes, I believe that these stereotypes exist within Arab societies as well. I am simply presenting an idea and would like to invite people to take a second look and question what I believe are long-standing stereotypes that need to be broken down.
Why did you choose a crowdsourcing platform (emphas.is) to seek financing for the project?
I had seen a pretty good success rate when it came to crowdfunding projects by my peers, so I decided to try it. The aim is to present the concept of my portrait series in the hope of reaching people and organisations around the world who would be interested in funding and seeing this project come to fruition, and of course supporting art from the Arab world. The funds will be used to cover my transportation and accommodation to continue taking portraits of the countries I have yet to represent through the project. Also, they will be used to print prototypes of a photo book of these portraits, which is my ultimate goal for this project.