-This exhibition is now closed-
Light from the Middle East: New Photography at the V&A is a collection of work by photographers from across the Middle East, ranging from classic photojournalism to experimental art. The scope of the project is huge and the show is varied and rich, examining the capacity of photography to alternately record truth, reframe the past and resist facile interpretations.
Clichés about the region are exploited and subverted cleverly. The injustice of post-9/11 prejudices in the West is tackled directly by Taraneh Hemami in her work Most Wanted, in which a series of FBI suspect mugshots is blurred and scratched until the subjects are left as anonymous veiled women and bearded men; vague stereotypes of America’s supposed new Muslim enemy. The role of women in Saudi society is the subject of Manal Al-Dowayan’s provocative portraits I am an Educator and I am a Saudi Citizen, which juxtapose traditional feminine jewellery and dress with progressive, assertive messages, taking to task the limited employment possibilities for women in Saudi Arabia. Shadi Ghadirian’s Qajar series looks subtly at the conflict of tradition and modernity in Iran through her portraits of women in classic Qajar dress, posing with incongruous contemporary objects – a Pepsi can, a mountain bike or a stereo.
The exhibition is equally successful in exploring photographic techniques and the ability of the camera to record truth, communicate ideas or even obscure reality altogether. While Abbas’s IranDiary photojournalism series displays the real-life violence of the Iranian revolution with alarming clarity, Mitra Tabrizian’s beautifully staged tableau Tehran 2006 presents the artist’s vision of the city as a fractured, rudderless and lonely environment, and Camille Zakharia pushes the medium to its limits with Markings II, in which the photographed image is so digitally distorted that it is impossible to decipher and the concept of photography as a means of accurately recording reality is vigorously rejected.
The diversity of subject matter and technique in this exhibition brilliantly shows the evolution of photography as an art form and its importance as a modern means of social and cultural communication.
The exhibition runs until 7 April and is free of charge.