Thursday, February 02, 2012

Fez Photography - Women’s Mirror Project

Today's guest contributor, Vanessa Bonnin, joined the local photography club as they embarked on a new project. The Women's Mirror project is the initiative of Omar Chennafi and Lamaie Skalli, in collaboration with the American Language Center - Arabic Language Institute Photography Club. Here is Vanessa's report.

On Saturday a group of local photography enthusiasts, led by well-known medina photographer Omar Chennafi, gathered in Batha, armed with a bag full of disposable cameras. Not the usual tool favoured by amateur or professional photographers, but these cameras had a unique purpose. They were to be distributed to selected local women – some Moroccan, some foreign - who would then document their lives, from their perspective, on one roll of film.

Photography club members with one of the participants - Zoubida (centre)

The results of these photographs – several images from each woman – will be displayed at an exhibition for International Women’s Day on March 8th.

“As a result of disparities in education, particularly literacy rates, Moroccan women are unable to publicly and widely express themselves, their hopes and dreams, their feelings towards the society in which they live, and the conditions of their daily lives,” Omar said. “Women’s Mirror seeks to give these women the opportunity to express themselves through the universal medium of photography.”

Lamaie Skalli, coordinator of the project and a student at the Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, said the project was seeking to empower women. “Specifically, we will look for Moroccan, and also foreign, women from different ages, socioeconomic backgrounds, and who live in either urban or rural environments,” she said. “We have strived to include in our target group women who represent as many demographic groups as possible as to show a complete picture of the socioeconomic conditions present in and around Fes.”

Our first stop was on the outskirts of Hay Ben Sleman. A woman named Khadija met us outside her ramshackle house, which overlooks the valley towards Mount Zalagh. She told us she had never had a photograph taken of herself before, let alone owned or used a camera. She was also illiterate, she confided, and was not confident that she could operate the disposable camera. After some coaching however, she quickly mastered the point and shoot technique, and her first successful attempts at taking photographs were met with cheers of delight by the assembled students.

Initially, she was also unsure that she could take part in the project, as she needed her husbands agreement, but after gaining confidence from some encouraging words by girls from the younger generation, she grinned and said she would try to take some pictures while her husband wasn’t looking!

Zoubida, one of the participants prepares to take her first shot
The next visit highlighted the contrast between the lives of women living in Morocco. Nina G, a Palestinian American living in Fes Medina with her two young daughters, moved here eight months ago and runs an export business to fashion designers based in New York and Los Angeles. She lives a mesria/apartment that forms part of a lush, tree-filled riad.

The camera distribution continued, to Souad a chef at Café Clock, Zoubida, a café worker in the Ville Nouvelle, and Nina, an English teacher at the American Language Centre. Phase two and three of the project will see women in rural areas and then women at the shelter in Ziat given cameras to participate in the project.

Lamaie Skalli said that the project aimed to give a voice to women, who are still marginalized in today’s society despite the great efforts of women's rights activists for the past 150 years.

“This inequality is felt acutely in countries like Morocco, where society remains patriarchal and the education system fails to provide equal opportunities to women, especially in rural areas,” she said.

“The project will give these women an opportunity to photograph their lives for what may be the first time. By doing so, it will show them, and the audience, that art is a powerful and universal medium, and that anyone who has a vision about their world can make art to be proud of.”

The exhibition is funded by the American Language Center, last year's Diva's Dinner fundraiser and Riad Laaroussa.


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