A snippet of beautiful black and white stills of Morocco found hung in a hotel whilst visiting Marrakesh. These age old images depict Morocco’s rich eclectic past of the busy souks and traditional Arabian cloaks. It is where Arabia meets Africa.
It seems that contemporary art from the Middle East has captured the public mainstream, and this week I visited the Light in the Middle East exhibition at the Victoria and Albert museum in London to explore this. This photography based exhibition take us on a journey of three different types of photography art - Recording, Reframing, and Resisting.
The presence of these images was set emote us into questioning the reliability of photographs as a source of truth, and to demonstrate the power of propaganda when images are slightly distorted. I felt the V&A unfortunately had not managed to convey the meaning of the exhibition well, and the stages of the journey were not labeled. It was only after visiting their website did I understand what I had seen to a fuller extent.
I did however come away fascinated with the works of Nermine Hammam. As a work in the marketing industry, it made me conscious how the meaning of an image can be instantly changed when placed in a different context. This was particularly vivid in the image ‘Armed Innocence II’ of two Egyptian soldiers on a tank patrol Tahrir Square 2011. Hammam had created a fantasy backdrop of snow mountain peaks highlighting the state’s abandonment and altered consciousness. It reflects a dimension of vulnerability in the wake of Egypt’s events.
“A room without books is like a body without a soul.”
Marcus Tullius Cicero
Quote from Tan Twan Eng, The Garden of Evening Mist - Nominee for the Booker Prize 2012
If you’re looking for an independent bookshop which oozes richness from its collection, look no further. Saqi Books offer a unique collection of literature from and around the Middle East. Based in Westbourne Grove (London), it covers many topical genres from current affairs to gender studies. As the Middle East becomes of more interest to world politics, this bespoke store brings a source of richness in understanding the culture, heritage, and political context of the region.
The Tenth Parallel takes the reader on an intrinsically detailed journey across the world, where the fault lines of Christianity and Islam meet. Based upon the latitude line positioned 700 miles north of the equator, and crossing through Africa and Asia, Eliza Griswold attempts to document how the these two major religions collide and shape the lives of millions. Taking the concept of the “Clash of Civilisations”, by Samuel P Huntington (a renowned political scientist), it explains how the religious awakening on a global stage derives from individuals on a local and personal level. The stories from Nigeria to Indonesia examine the complex relationship of the two religions when involved around issues of land, oil, political ideologies, and contemporary martyrdom.
Although Griswold’s documents from the some of the riskiest places on earth with such equisetic detail, it falls short in providing a politically academic understanding of Huntington’s theory. I was slightly disappointed with the biased and Orientalist stand taken, making it difficult to provide a balanced and a true understanding of the topic. Its journalistic edge makes it more suited as a travel diary, than providing a better understanding of the awakening of religion in 21st century politics.
Furthermore, The Tenth Parallel draws together over generalised conclusions from many unrelated events from around the world. The way in which religion plays a part in securing oil in Sudan, is very different to the role of religion in secularised Malaysian politics. Comparisons such as these seemed to have been forced together, making it difficult as a reader to understand the book’s conclusions.
Griswold can draw some merit from the anthropological perceptive the book takes on world politics. This gives a unique and personal touch to the book, detailing the reality and lives’ of individuals. However, this positive element provides grounding for another theoretical weakness. By using individual accounts of people to explain her theory, it becomes unrepresentative of the wider population. For example, Griswold follows an extreme Islamist in Indonesia, documenting his personal war against globalisation and the government’s secularist policies. This minority representation is disproportionately accounted as a ‘clash of civilisations’. The definition of ‘civilisation’ is of a society which shares the same values. Such view is not shared by the majority, and does not represent the multiple strands of faiths and political views in Indonesian society.
Overall, The Tenth Parallel provides an interesting read for those who wish to find out more about political affairs in Africa and Asia, which are not covered by the mainstream media. The book’s major weakness derives from its overstated conclusions in regards to the ‘the clash of civilisations’. However, its beautiful detailing brings to life Griswold’s travels, and makes it a unique and fascinating read.
On my usual quest to source the web on current affairs, I stumbled across a tweet by the British Red Cross of Tom Stoddard’s photo exhibition. As one of the world’s most renowned photographers, Tom has documented moments in world history. He has captured the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin wall, Nelson Mandela’s election, and the war in Iraq.
I was intrigued by his latest efforts, with the participation of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), on the Health Care in Danger campaign. Some of the images I saw on the website were shocking, yet immensely moving. It draws on the risks and the reality that health care workers face, when working in the most hostile regions of the world. It is most certainly an area which is overlooked.
His latest exhibition - 78Perspectives - will open on the 25th of July, at More London Riverside. I would certainly recommend having a peek at his amazing black and white stills, taken from around the world.
And, as this is a book blog, I have heard his book ’IWitness was honoured as the best photography book published in the USA’. I will certainly be looking out for both of these this month!