The work of the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture has become the focus of the 15th edition of Dubai’s Gulf Photo Plus.
The event’s headline exhibition will draw on work from AFAC’s Arab Documentary Photography Program. Crafted in partnership with Alserkal Avenue (home to a cluster of galleries and art spaces in Dubai) and on show at the Concrete exhibition space Feb. 4-9, GPP is run annually by Dubai’s photography center.
This year the event is themed “Get Closer,” as it strives to bridge the distance between the photographers and their subjects around the region.
The main attraction, “The Shortest Distance Between Us: Stories from the Arab Documentary Photography Program,” features seven photographers from the ADPP, curated by ADPP’s coordinator Jessica Murray of Al-Liquindoi, a Barcelona-based NGO working with photographers.
“They wanted to have a focus on Arab photographers working in the region, so they approached us, because we have a program that is dedicated to photographers from the region,” AFAC Executive Director Rima Mismar told The Daily Star.
“It’s a program that combines training as well as a small grant … supporting every year between 9-10 photographers. It’s targeting photographers who are at the beginning of their career,” she continued.
“The idea is they submit what their project is about. It has to be implemented in the Arab region and [they] must be living in the region.”
Founded in 2014 in partnership with the Magnum Foundation and co-funded by AFAC and the Prince Claus Fund, the ADPP is built around two extensive workshops with mentors to help participants develop their projects and storytelling.
“Because [the GPP] is showcasing the program itself, we thought we would not have a theme and spotlight the program, as it’s the only program in the region which is doing this kind of work, and to also be able to present the full body of work of the photographers,” Mismar said. “It’s based more on storytelling through photography.
“The geographic diversity was important, to highlight projects happening in different parts of the Arab world, to give a more comprehensive understanding of the landscape and the practice itself.”
Series on show include Lebanon’s Elsie al-Haddad’s “Stranded: On Life After Imprisonment,” which follows inmates after their release in their struggle to rebuild their lives.
“Intersections” by Hicham Gardaf explores urban development in Morocco and its subsequent transformations on Moroccan society and identity. Syrian photographer Omar Imam’s “Live, Love, Refugee” is a series of 11 black-and-white photos looking at refugees.
“It’s unique in the sense that it highlights the project’s direction in terms of endorsing different approaches,” Mismar said.
“Omar’s project has a very surreal touch to it and is based on people taking positions in front of the camera that express their fears.
“He worked with Syrian refugees in the Bekaa camps and spent a lot of time listening to their stories and then picked one story for them to represent in a picture.”
Tunisian photojournalist Zied Ben Romdhane’s series “West of Life” documents a Tunisian village where a phosphate factory is located and its impact on everyday life for the people living there.
“It also tries to find the contrast between a village that has an industry that is supposed to bring wealth to the village,” Mismar said, “and the state of poverty, the workers’ conditions and what they do.”
Mismar observed that what the viewer sees of documentary photography is often the tip of the iceberg, built on a foundation of research, such Heba Khalifa’s project “Homemade.” The series examines the expectations and mistreatment experienced by anyone having a female body in Egyptian society.
“She started a group on Facebook looking for women who wanted to be photographed and then her house slowly became a hub for these women to sit, talk and vent,” Mismar said. “What was created on a community level was really big and then what came out of it was this 15-20 photo body of work.”