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 (c-type prints, 8” x 10”) 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.
– Wasma Mansour, 2012