Doves, 2008, from the series Out of Line
2008 Aperture Portfolio Prize Runner-Up
edition size: 25 and 5 artist’s proofs
Signed and numbered by the artist
image size: 11 x 14 in.
paper size: 11 x 14 in.
Priced to increase thereafter
In her series Out of Line, Jowhara AlSaud uses a labor intensive, craft-oriented process to create images that address Saudi Arabia’s stringent laws of visual censorship, all while conflating Western expectations of feminine-Arab identity and blurring the lines distinguishing photography from the more traditional art practices of drawing and etching.
In Saudi Arabia, censors exert strict control over visual materials, especially those imported from other nations; in media ranging from billboards to magazines, faces are blurred, and black marker crudely obscures exposed female arms and legs. In domestic spaces, the censors’ influence fuses with long-standing traditions preserving personal privacy, making portraits rare unless they portray close family and friends. In public, portraits are sometimes vandalized by lines drawn across throats, a symbolic decapitation to circumvent the Islamic injunction against portraying human or animal form.
Co-opting the censors’ techniques of obfuscation, AlSaud makes line drawings of her personal photographs, omitting faces and including only the most pertinent visual information—usually no more than contours of limbs, clothing, and hair. She then etches the drawings into photographic negatives portraying artifacts of correspondence—envelopes, paper, and the like—and prints from that altered negative. This method does more than preserve her subjects’ anonymity and satisfy the censors’ stern sensibilities; it allows AlSaud to question photography’s ontological meaning as she deftly incorporates handcraft into analogue photographic technique. In her words, “... I try to undermine any documentary authority [photography] may possess as a medium .... For me, a photograph functions more like a memory, in that it's a singular perspective of a split second in time, entirely subjective and impressionable.”
Meanwhile, AlSaud’s images go farther, into the realm of pop art—an unusual leap for most in the West to make with Arab art, particularly that of a female artist. AlSaud’s depictions of her typically female subjects, though, are reminiscent of graphic novels while evoking an aesthetic reminiscent of Urban Outfitters advertisements. The young women in AlSaud’s photographs are often without veil—or any other ethnic signifier, for that matter—and cavort comfortably before the camera. They are much different than the stereotypical image of Arab women pervasive in the West—austere, impersonal, and generic. Rather, even without their faces present, AlSaud succeeds in portraying Saudi women as relatable, dynamic, and self-possessed.