Decolonizing documentary photography: The RAWIYA collective in Palestine. By Sherena Razek / AWARE

Tanya Habjouqa, Occupied Pleasures, 2012-2013, Courtesy Tanya Habjouqa

“What can images that move do for people who cannot? What can documentary photography as a practice, form, and genre do in its ubiquitous, global circulation for those rendered immobile by colonial occupation?

More specifically this thesis asks: How do contemporary Middle Eastern women photographers working in Palestine, throughout the Middle East, and the diaspora contest Western, reductive constructions of difference through lens-based work? How can a sociopolitical and historical repositioning of documentary photography shed further light on the work of the Rawiya collective in Palestine and the continuing Israeli occupation? And how do we navigate a dialogue of this kind, which deals with the fragile topics of gender, sexuality, historical erasure and neocolonial oppression in a region that has been ideologically inundated by international politics and Western media images?

Rawiya is an Arabic word that translates to “she who tells a story” and serves as the title of the first all-women photography collective established in the Middle East. Rawiya’s founding members include Tanya Habjouqa (born in 1975), Tamara Abdul Hadi (born in 1980), Myriam Abdelaziz (born in 1976), Laura Boushnak (born in 1976), and Tasneem Alsultan (born in 1985). Comprising former and continuing photojournalists and documentarians, the artists in Rawiya have photographed the lives of marginalized and subaltern communities throughout the Middle East ever since (and even before) their collective was established in 2009, from a gendered perspective as visual storytellers connected to the region.”

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