Appreciating Architecture: #EmptyNMWA Instameet

More than 25 D.C.-area Instagrammers visited NMWA on June 17, 2016, for a before-hours Instameet. With access to the empty galleries, local photographers explored the museum’s building and collection, as well as the special exhibitions She Who Tells a Story: Women Photographers from Iran and the Arab World and Alison Saar In Print. Attendees including @2020_productions snapped photographs of the event’s snacks, including cookies inspired by the building’s façade. Participants explored the building’s history through a staff-led tour while sharing their tagged photos on social media with #EmptyNMWA.

instameet_architecture

Left to right: @2020_productions photographs cookies; NMWA’s director of operations leads a tour

Gordon Umbarger, NMWA’s director of operations, explained the fascinating history behind the museum’s architecture. During an outdoor segment of the tour, attendees learned that Theodore Roosevelt laid the building’s cornerstone using the same gavel and trowel that George Washington used for the Capitol Building in 1793. @dc_explorer captured and shared this commonly overlooked feature.

Did you know that the building was first constructed as a Masonic temple in 1907 and women were not allowed entry? It seems fitting that today the building houses works by women artists! Visitors can detect traces of Masonic architecture around the museum. @korofina zoomed in on the building’s exterior frieze featuring the square and compass symbols. @buildings_of_dc captured the full building, which was designed in a Renaissance Revival style by prominent D.C. architect Waddy Wood, from a vantage point across street.

For additional income the Masons rented parts of the building to other local businesses, including George Washington University, a dentist, an insurance agent, and a uniform supply shop. The space hosted the Pix Theatre during the 1940s and early ’50s—until the Masons terminated the theater’s lease due to the sometimes racy nature of its movies. @kjhower1 captured decorative details that used to frame the movie screen.

In 1983, NMWA’s founders, Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay, purchased the space and opened the museum to the public in 1987. Ten years later, the museum opened an addition within an adjoining building. Formerly a “D.C. pleasure palace,” the building was renamed the Elisabeth A. Kasser Wing, and it now houses NMWA’s Museum Shop and sculpture gallery.

Participants found more Insta-worthy subjects inside the museum. @cczablotney snagged an incredible photo of the museum’s Great Hall and one of its iconic chandeliers while @kaitlyntward focused on the marble balustrades. @beingdave even observed the benches in the Great Hall designed by Florence Knoll. Visitors also ventured into the collection galleries and special exhibitions. @setarrra photographed another participant mirroring a photograph from Tanya Habjouqa’s “Women of Gaza” series, on view in She Who Tells a Story.

It was a fun and creative Instameet! To see all the event’s photos, check out the Storify compilation or browse #EmptyNMWA on Instagram. Follow @WomenInTheArts on Instagram and Twitter to learn about future Instameet opportunities.

—Casey Betts is the summer 2016 digital engagement intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

New Documentary in “She Who Tells a Story”

NMWA’s summer exhibition She Who Tells a Story: Women Photographers from Iran and the Arab World is organized around three themes: New Documentary, Constructing Identities, and Deconstructing Orientalism.

She Who Tells a Story artists use artistic and documentary techniques to both depict experiences and address concerns about the medium of photography. Through staging, editing, and other manipulations, artists like Gohar Dashti and Rula Halawani question the objectivity of the photograph while expressing deeper truths about their subjects.

The Legacy of War

Gohar Dashti’s series “Today’s Life and War” shows the everyday activities of a couple in a fictionalized battlefield. Dashti, who grew up during the Iran-Iraq war (1980–88), says that her series “represents war and its heritage, how it permeates all aspects of contemporary society.” Concerned with capturing moments that ”reference the ongoing duality of life and war without precluding hope,” Dashti’s staged photographs convey the legacy of war.

Gohar Dashti, Untitled #2, from the series “Today’s Life and War,” 2008; Chromogenic print, 27 5/8 x 41 3/8 in.; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Museum purchase with funds donated by the Weintz Family Harbor Lights Foundation, 2013.555; © Gohar Dashti

Gohar Dashti, Untitled #2, from the series “Today’s Life and War,” 2008; Chromogenic print, 27 5/8 x 41 3/8 in.; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Museum purchase with funds donated by the Weintz Family Harbor Lights Foundation, 2013.555; © Gohar Dashti

Untitled #2 depicts a female figure hanging white cloths over barbed wire. In the blurred background, viewers can detect a male figure and military vehicles. The scene’s strange, dramatic elements emphasize its artificiality. Dashti’s photograph symbolizes the presence of war in everyday life rather than depicting real events. The barbed wire enclosure evokes borders and restriction, while the act of hanging white cloths suggests both mundane tasks like laundry and a longing for peace.

Violence and Erasure

“Negative Incursions” was Rula Halawani’s first artistic project after she left the field of photojournalism. A Palestinian living in East Jerusalem, the artist captured these images during the 2002 Israeli incursion into the West Bank. Rather than produce standard journalistic images, Halawani enlarged the negatives and printed them with a thick black border.

Rula Halawani, Untitled VI, from the series “Negative Incursions,” 2002; Chromogenic print, 35 1/2 x 48 7/8 in.; © Courtesy of the artist and the Ayyam Gallery

Rula Halawani, Untitled VI, from the series “Negative Incursions,” 2002; Chromogenic print, 35 1/2 x 48 7/8 in.; © Courtesy of the artist and the Ayyam Gallery

Her use of negatives suggests military imagery and draws attention to the technical processes of photography. “Negative Incursions” acknowledges the bias of all representations, even photographs, and encourages viewers to look for distortions elsewhere. Thick black borders framing the images—reminiscent of a television screen—echo this by critiquing media bias and inattention to Palestinian suffering.

Halawani’s technique also encourages viewers to approach these scenes from a fresh perspective, eliciting new responses from audiences whose exposure to the conflict has been oversaturated with graphic images of war and violence. Her disorienting negative images draw the viewer into an alien landscape, prompting shock and horror upon closer inspection. Not only a document of real events, Halawani’s series represents a collective experience of suffering, the subjectivity of the medium of photography, and the “negation of [Palestinian] reality” by military violence and media indifference.

New Stories

Dashti and Halawani both document their own experiences and the collective experience of their generation, community, or culture. Using art photography together with documentary techniques, they question the links between photojournalistic photography and a single, objective truth. Their creative interventions infuse their works with meaning and challenge the neutrality of mainstream narratives, making room for other stories to be told.

—Kait Gilioli is the summer 2016 publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

She Who Tells a Story: Newsha Tavakolian

In Arabic, the word rawiya means “she who tells a story.” Each artist in NMWA’s summer exhibition She Who Tells a Story: Women Photographers from Iran and the Arab World offers a vision of the world she has witnessed.

Newsha Tavakolian, Untitled, from the series “Listen,” 2010; Pigment print, 39 3/8 x 47 1/4 in.; Courtesy of the artist and East Wing Contemporary Gallery

Newsha Tavakolian, Untitled, from the series “Listen,” 2010; Pigment print, 39 3/8 x 47 1/4 in.; Courtesy of the artist and East Wing Contemporary Gallery

Newsha Tavakolian

(b. 1981, Tehran, Iran; lives Tehran)

Photographer Newsha Tavakolian works as a photojournalist as well as an artist. She began her career as a photojournalist for the Iranian press—working for nine publications that are all now banned—and since 2002 has worked for foreign press agencies. Tavakolian’s art often illuminates the lives of women in Iranian society. In her series “Listen” (2010), she addresses social concerns through stirring images of women singers.

In Her Own Words

“I got to a stage in my career where news photography became almost impossible for me. I always give this example: when they keep you from breathing through your nose, you open your mouth to breathe. For me, art photography was necessary to be able to breathe again. I am passionate about documentary and news photography, but I was not allowed to think freely in that realm. . . . I developed a love for art photography too. Tehran is perfect because it is full of untouched subjects. There is a story you could be telling everywhere, although I try not to have a touristy look at my own country. Instead, I try to unfold layers and layers and delve deeper. Tehran is a very unique place.”

“As a woman, subjects that deal with women’s issues come to me naturally. It is as if I am discovering things about myself through my female subjects. As I get older, I have more and more questions about being a woman and it is as if subjects that directly or indirectly deal with women, allow me to understand myself better.”—Newsha Tavakolian on the Leica blog

What’s On View?

Newsha Tavakolian, Maral Afsharian from the series “Listen,” 2010; Pigment print photograph, 23 5/8 x 31 1/2 in.; Courtesy of the artist and East Wing Contemporary Gallery

Newsha Tavakolian, Maral Afsharian from the series “Listen,” 2010; Pigment print photograph, 23 5/8 x 31 1/2 in.; Courtesy of the artist and East Wing Contemporary Gallery

Photographs and a video installation from Tavakolian’s “Listen” series are on view. The artist wrote, “The project ‘Listen’ focuses on women singers who are not allowed to perform solo or produce their own CDs due to Islamic regulations in effect since the 1979 revolution. The photos are taken of the professional women singers performing in their mind in front of a large audience, where in reality this was taking place in a small private studio in downtown Tehran. Subsequently, in my mind I made a dream CD cover for each of the women, which was my own interpretation of the society I live in and experience. However, the CD cases will for now remain empty.”

Visit the museum and explore She Who Tells a Story, on view through July 31, 2016.

—Elizabeth Lynch is the editor at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Recent Acquisitions at the LRC: The Agonizing and Absurd Moments of Palestinian Life

The next time you visit NMWA, come to the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center to see new books on women in the arts, as well as reference books, artists’ books, and more. Meet Tanya Habjouqa at the museum on Wednesday, July 27 for a special in-gallery program.

The cover of Occupied Pleasures by Tanya Habjouqa, FotoEvidence, 2015

The cover of Occupied Pleasures by Tanya Habjouqa, FotoEvidence, 2015

Occupied Pleasures
Tanya Habjouqa
(FotoEvidence, 2015)

Jordanian photographer Tanya Habjouqa reveals the agonizing and absurd instants of occupied Palestinian life in Occupied Pleasures. In the foreword, poet Nathalie Handal describes the book as “a collection of stories captured in images, images like Palestinian lives lived in instants only.” Habjouqa’s photographs portray joyous moments­­ of daily life—a family picnics together, women dance, and children swim—that are surrounded by dark circumstances. The occupation is obvious in these images: the menacing security wall looms in the background, a man sits at a checkpoint, a woman holding a bouquet wanders through the tunnel between Gaza and Egypt to a forbidden wedding.

Habjouqa’s work has been exhibited and published worldwide, and six of her photographs are currently on view at NMWA in She Who Tells a Story. She currently works from East Jerusalem on projects concerning identity politics and subcultures of the Levant. Habjouqa is also a founding member of the Rawiya photo collective, a group of women photographers from the Middle East who challenge stereotypes and support fellow women photographers in the region.

Occupied Pleasures contains a combination of photojournalism and imagery illustrating everyday Palestinian life, which Laleh Khalili refers to in the book’s introduction as “evanescent moments.” This body of work offers a nuanced perspective. Khalili writes, “It brings together the indisputable condition of their lives—occupation, violence, surveillance—and shows us that even within the confines of normalised atrocity, the spirit effervesces.”

In one captivating photograph, a man smokes a cigarette in his car outside of a checkpoint, with a sheep in the passenger seat of his car. “Detention juxtaposed against a moment of respite illuminates the extremities of the Palestinian narrative: celebration and mourning, respite and struggle, and the pleasure of smoking a cigarette,” writes Khalili. Through this collection of photos, Habjouqa exposes moments of levity to give the viewer a window into the humanity of the Palestinian people.

Meet artist Tanya Habjouqa at the museum for an in-gallery conversation on Wednesday, July 27. Reserve your spot on NMWA’s website.

All are welcome to look at this catalogue, which is available in the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. If you’re touring the museum, the library is open to the public Monday–Friday, 10 a.m.–12 p.m. and 1–5 p.m.

 ­­Katy Seely was the winter/spring 2016 intern in the Library and Research Center at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

She Who Tells a Story: Shirin Neshat

In Arabic, the word rawiya means “she who tells a story.” Each artist in in NMWA’s summer exhibition She Who Tells a Story: Women Photographers from Iran and the Arab World offers a vision of the world she has witnessed.

Visitors study Shirin Neshat’s work in She Who Tells a Story

Visitors study Shirin Neshat’s work in She Who Tells a Story

Shirin Neshat

(b. 1957, Qazvin, Iran; lives New York City)

Shirin Neshat moved to the United States during the Iranian Revolution (1979) and studied fine arts. In 1990, Neshat returned to visit Iran and found a changed country. Inspired to create her best-known photographic series Women of Allah (1993–97), Neshat wrote verses by contemporary Iranian women writers across the surface of her photographs in Farsi.

In Her Own Words

“Art is our weapon. Culture is a form of resistance.”—Shirin Neshat, in a 2010 TED talk

In a way, all of my photographic work is inscribed with poetry. Poetic works allow us to say everything; they offer a subversive language that can transcend the law.”—Shirin Neshat, in an Artforum article

“Under all circumstances, [Iranian women] have pushed the boundary, they have confronted the authority, they have broken every rule in the smallest and the biggest way and once again they proved themselves. . . . Iranian woman have found a new voice and their voice is giving me my voice.”—Shirin Neshat, discussing the Iranian Green Movement in a 2010 TED talk

What’s On View?

Five photographs, including one from Neshat’s “Women of Allah” series (1993–97), and four from “The Book of Kings” (2012) are included in the exhibition.

Shirin Neshat, Ibrahim (Patriots), from the series “The Book of Kings, ”2012; Ink on laser-exposed silver gelatin print, 60 x 45 in.; Courtesy of the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels; © Shirin Neshat

Shirin Neshat, Ibrahim (Patriots), from the series “The Book of Kings,” 2012; Ink on laser-exposed silver gelatin print, 60 x 45 in.; Courtesy of the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels; © Shirin Neshat

“The Book of Kings” marks Neshat’s return to black-and-white photography. Neshat found inspiration in stories from participants in the Arab Spring in 2011 and protesters from the Iranian Green Movement in 2009. One portrait on view, Ibrahim (2012), belongs to a part of “The Book of Kings” series Neshat calls the Patriots. The figure meets the viewer’s gaze with his right hand placed over his heart. Neshat inscribed the portrait with calligraphic verses in Farsi from contemporary Iranian poetry, giving the work a powerful effect.

Neshat borrowed the title of her series from the Shahnameh (Book of Kings), an epic Persian poem written a thousand years ago by the poet Ferdowsi. The epic narrates the deeds of legendary and historical kings of Iran, including tales of heroes and villains. Interested in the concept of martyrdom, Neshat says her series explores “how the notions of patriotism, faith, and self-sacrifice always intersect with violence, atrocity, and ultimately death.” She connects triumphs and tragedies of the past to contemporary political demonstrations in Iran and the Middle East. “Perhaps that’s why I became an artist,” says Neshat, “I could build a bridge in between myself and my country. . . re-interpreting historical narratives which I’ve never witnessed but only imagined.”

Visit the museum and explore She Who Tells a Story, on view through July 31, 2016.

—Emily Haight is the digital editorial assistant at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

She Who Tells a Story: Rania Matar

In Arabic, the word rawiya means “she who tells a story.” Each artist in NMWA’s summer exhibition She Who Tells a Story: Women Photographers from Iran and the Arab World offers a vision of the world she has witnessed.

Rania Matar

Rania Matar at NMWA in front of one of her photographs in She Who Tells a Story; Photo: NMWA

Rania Matar with one of her photographs in She Who Tells a Story; Photo: NMWA

(b. 1964, Beirut, Lebanon; lives Brookline, Massachusetts)

Photographer Rania Matar says, “I was born and raised in Lebanon. I moved to the U.S. to go to architecture school in 1984. . . . I am very much part of both cultures, and both places have shaped my identity.” Matar’s documentary photographs depict women and girls in the U.S. and the Middle East, highlighting universal themes of developing identity. “A Girl and Her Room,” her largest series, features images of young women surrounded by their possessions and creations.

In Her Own Words

“In 2002 I was in Lebanon and went with a cousin of mine to a Palestinian refugee camp. I was shocked to see how people were living so close to where I had grown up and more shocked by the fact that I had no idea. I just started photographing people in the camps, and fell in love with the ability to tell a story through photography.”—Rania Matar, in an interview with Lenscratch

“After my first book, Ordinary Lives, about women and girls in refugee camps and in the aftermath of war in Lebanon, was published, I started the project about teenage girls. . . . inspired by my older daughter, then 15. I was watching her passage from girlhood into adulthood, fascinated with the transformation taking place, the adult personality taking shape.” Matar photographed her daughter with her friends and realized how the girls’ interactions shaped the identities they portrayed: “From this recognition, the idea of photographing each girl alone by herself in her personal space emerged. The room was a metaphor, an extension of the girl, but also the girl seems to be part of the room, to fit in, just like everything else in that material and emotional space.”—Rania Matar, audio recording for She Who Tells a Story

What’s On View?

Rania Matar, Reem, Doha, Lebanon, from the series “A Girl and Her Room,” 2010; Pigment print, 36 x 50 in.; Courtesy of the artist and Carroll and Sons, Boston; © Rania Matar

Rania Matar, Reem, Doha, Lebanon, from the series “A Girl and Her Room,” 2010; Pigment print, 36 x 50 in.; Courtesy of the artist and Carroll and Sons, Boston; © Rania Matar

Several works from the series “A Girl and Her Room” are on view. Matar says, “The images here are part of that series in the Middle East—Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank, and the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. They include six young women from all backgrounds and religions, and it is honestly not obvious at all to guess which one is Muslim, Druze, or Christian. The focus is on being a girl, on growing up, and on identity. . . . Being with those young women in the privacy of their world gave me a unique peek into their private lives and their inner selves.”

Visit the museum and explore She Who Tells a Story, on view through July 31, 2016.

—Elizabeth Lynch is the editor at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

5 Fast Facts: Daniela Rossell

Impress your friends with five fast facts about Mexican photographer Daniela Rossell (b. 1973), whose work is on view in NMWA’s third-floor galleries.

Daniela Rossell (b. 1973)

Daniela Rossell, Inge and Her Mother Ema in the Living Room from the series “Ricas y famosas,” NMWA, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, DC; © Daniela Rossell, Courtesy of the artist and Greene Naftali, New York

Daniela Rossell, Inge and Her Mother Ema in the Living Room from the series “Ricas y famosas,” NMWA, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, DC; © Daniela Rossell, Courtesy of the artist and Greene Naftali, New York

1. Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

In the series “Ricas y famosas,” Daniela Rossell photographed some of the most affluent women in Mexico—many of whom are associated with the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), the ruling party in Mexico from 1929 to 2000.

2. All in the Family

Rossell’s “Ricas y famosas” subjects are her own family members, friends, and acquaintances. The artist began the series with images of her grandmothers before focusing on the younger generations of women in her family. The project expanded as Rossell’s photographs impressed other women, who asked to be included.

3. Open to Interpretation

Daniela Rossell, Medusa, from the series “Ricas y famosas,” 1999; NMWA, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, DC; © Daniela Rossell, Courtesy of the artist and Greene Naftali, New York

Daniela Rossell, Medusa, from the series “Ricas y famosas,” 1999; NMWA, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, DC; © Daniela Rossell, Courtesy of the artist and Greene Naftali, New York

Rossell published the entire series as a book in 2002. Seen together, these portrayals of extreme wealth caused controversy throughout Mexico. Rossell and her subjects faced backlash as the public saw the cumulative body of work and viewed the women as “poster girls of corruption.”

4. Artistic Beginnings

Because her mother is an art collector, Rossell grew up surrounded by fine art. She began her career in her teens as an actress. She later studied painting at the National School of Visual Arts in Mexico City before shifting her attention to photography.

5. Creative Collaborations

Not unlike She Who Tells a Story artist Tanya Habjouqa’s process of spending time with her subjects in her series “Women of Gaza,” Rossell interviewed the women, toured their houses, and listened to their ideas before taking her shot—providing a more authentic image.

—Ashley Harris is assistant educator at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Constructing Identities in “She Who Tells a Story”

NMWA’s summer exhibition She Who Tells a Story: Women Photographers from Iran and the Arab World is organized around three themes: Constructing Identities, Deconstructing Orientalism, and New Documentary.

Artists in She Who Tells a Story explore questions of identity from the perspectives of religion, politics, gender, and history. Highlighting difference, connection, individuality, and universality, these works offer alternate views of Arab and Iranian female identity.

Breaking Silences

A NMWA visitor studies Newsha Tavakolian’s Don’t Forget This Is Not You (for Sahar Lotfi)

A NMWA visitor studies Newsha Tavakolian’s Don’t Forget This Is Not You (for Sahar Lotfi)

Many works on view examine identity in the context of political restrictions on women. In her efforts to explore the social and political circumstances of Iranian women, Newsha Tavakolian photographed and filmed professional female musicians forbidden to record or publicly perform in her series “Listen” (2010).

One part of “Listen” is a series of mock CD covers, combining photographs with imaginary titles for albums that cannot be recorded. The album title for Don’t Forget This Is Not You (for Sahar Lotfi) is written over the image of a woman standing in the ocean “like a modern Venus.”

With a multi-faceted meaning, this work mourns “limitations on her freedom” while maintaining a tone of defiance. “Listen” reminds viewers that Iranian women are more than the ideals endorsed by the powerful, with identities and desires of their own. Simultaneously, the work dissuades men and Westerners from projecting their own biases and identities onto the image. “Listen” insists that Iranian women are not symbols or mirrors to reflect Western beliefs about the Islamic world, but individuals who can tell their own stories.

Women as Storytellers

Tanya Habjouqa’s “Women of Gaza” series offers an alternative view of Arab female identity that focuses on female empowerment. One photograph from the series shows a young woman snapping a picture with her cell phone camera. Depicting the girl in the process of looking and creating subverts viewers’ expectations and challenges stereotypes. The girl is an active subject whose gaze is indirectly fixed on viewers through the screen of her phone, appearing to watch them watching her. Habjouqa shows this young woman as a creator in her own right, upending the stereotypical objectified role of Arab women.

Tanya Habjouqa, Untitled, from the series “Women of Gaza,” 2009; Pigment print, 27 5/8 x 39 3/8 in.; Courtesy of the artist and East Wing Contemporary Gallery

Tanya Habjouqa, Untitled, from the series “Women of Gaza,” 2009; Pigment print, 27 5/8 x 39 3/8 in.; Courtesy of the artist and East Wing Contemporary Gallery

The work also explores the identity of the photographer. Habjouqa involves her subjects as active participants in creating their portraitsrejects the role of photographers as objective or removed from the circumstances they document. Habjouqa describes her collaborative relationship with the women in these photographs as an essential part of “telling the human story.”

New Possibilities

Artists like Tavakolian and Habjouqa are not simply investigating their own identities. They also share new possibilities for Arab and Iranian female identity and argue that women must be participants in—rather than objects of—representations that seek to tell meaningful stories. By portraying their subjects as active creators and storytellers, these artists reject stereotypes and offer images of women empowered to forge their own paths.

—Kait Gilioli is the summer 2016 publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

She Who Tells a Story: Nermine Hammam

In Arabic, the word rawiya means “she who tells a story.” Each artist in NMWA’s summer exhibition She Who Tells a Story: Women Photographers from Iran and the Arab World offers a vision of the world she has witnessed.

A visitor studies six of Hammam’s photographs on view

A visitor studies nine of Hammam’s works on view

Nermine Hammam

(b. 1967, Cairo; lives Cairo and London)

Hammam attended school in England and studied filmmaking at New York University. Her layered, digitally manipulated works explore the subjective nature of reality. Hammam says, “The edge of the photograph can exclude as much as it includes. To me, this makes the photograph an inherently fictitious and unreliable record of both the past and the present.”

In Her Own Words

“I entered this traditionally male-dominated space, camera in hand, inverting conventional power relationships to ‘shoot’ the soldiers. Their response to my presence, as a woman, in their midst, has become part of the ‘facts’ documented in these images.”—Nermine Hammam

“….As the hatches opened, and doors of military vehicles were thrown wide, what emerged was not the angry stereotypes of power and masculinity we expected, but wide-eyed youths with tiny frames, squinting at the cacophony of Cairo. The soldiers’ vulnerability and sheer youth baffled me. I had come to Tahrir to photograph images of military might. Instead, what emerged was its opposite: military tenderness, virile coquetry and masculine frailty.”—Nermine Hammam, artist statement for “Cairo Year One: Upekkha”

What’s On View?

Hammam’s work addresses the 18-day uprising in Egypt in January 2011 and its aftermath. Ten photographs from the first part of the “Cairo Year One” series, “Upekkha” (2011), and two from later works in the series, “Unfolding” (2012), are on view in the exhibition. Hammam juxtaposes images of soldiers in Tahrir Square during the uprising with peaceful scenes from her personal collection of postcards.

Nermine Hammam, The Break, from the series “Cairo Year One: Upekkha," 2011; Chromogenic print, 23 5/8 x 23 5/8 in.; Courtesy of Taymour Grahne

Nermine Hammam, The Break, from the series “Cairo Year One: Upekkha,” 2011; Chromogenic print, 23 5/8 x 23 5/8 in.; Courtesy of Taymour Grahne

Expecting “military might,” Hammam was surprised by the young, vulnerable soldiers and imagined transporting them to pleasant places. The Break features two soldiers eating a snack in front of a snow-covered mountain range. The combination of a bucolic mountain scene and the soldiers’ relaxed poses contradict images of the social upheaval in Egypt. “This work is about youth, universal youth, and the harshness and inhumanity of sending our children to war,” says Hammam. Inspired by propaganda posters from the 1940s and ’50s depicting strong figures in idealized settings, Hammam says, “The backgrounds emphasize the discordant presence of armed men among civilians in Tahrir: men of war in Paradise.”

Visit the museum and explore She Who Tells a Story, on view through July 31, 2016.

—Emily Haight is the digital editorial assistant at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

She Who Tells a Story: Rula Halawani

In Arabic, the word rawiya means “she who tells a story.” Each artist in NMWA’s summer exhibition She Who Tells a Story: Women Photographers from Iran and the Arab World offers a vision of the world she has witnessed.

NMWA visitors study two of Rula Halawani’s photographs in the She Who Tells a Story galleries

NMWA visitors study two of Rula Halawani’s photographs in She Who Tells a Story

Rula Halawani

(b. 1964, Jerusalem; lives East Jerusalem)

Rula Halawani began her career as a photojournalist. She then changed course and started creating art photography—she said, “I had to find a different way to relate my photography to how I was feeling, to being Palestinian in Palestine.” Her images incorporate carefully chosen photo techniques to reflect the deeper meaning behind images.

In Her Own Words

“‘Negative Incursion’ was my first project after I quit photojournalism. It happened a few months after my return from London, where I was doing my Master’s in photography. . . . On 28 March 2002, I was in Ramallah when the Israeli army invaded. . . . No one was in the streets that day except the Israeli army and its tanks. I felt depressed, cold, and scared. The only Palestinian I met on the road that day was an old man who sold coffee. Later he was shot dead. . . . That night I could not take away his face from my memory, and many questions without answers rushed inside my head.”

“On the surface, the pictures I took of the invasion could be considered regular photojournalism. I could have published them just as they were, as documents of the invasion. Instead, I printed them in negative. Why? In negative, the pictures were able to express my own feelings merged with the feelings of my people, to explain what had happened to us and to Palestine. As negatives, they express the negation of our reality that the invasion represented.”—Rula Halawani, in an interview with Art Radar

What’s On View?

Rula Halawani, Untitled VI, from the series “Negative Incursions,” 2002; Chromogenic print, 35 1/2 x 48 7/8 in.; © Courtesy of the artist and the Ayyam Gallery

Rula Halawani, Untitled VI, from the series “Negative Incursions,” 2002; Chromogenic print, 35 1/2 x 48 7/8 in.; © Courtesy of the artist and the Ayyam Gallery

Several works from the “Negative Incursions” series are on view in the “New Documentary” section of She Who Tells a Story. Halawani emphasizes the significance of combining documentary and artistic techniques to give a more profound impression of her subjects and their lives.

To viewers, her use of negatives seems disorienting and chaotic, magnifying the confusion and disorder of the scenes she depicts. Halawani also presents these images with black frames and mats, evoking a television, which is often the medium through which Westerners encounter journalistic images of the region. By manipulating her images, she is able not just to depict factual events, but to “tell the larger story.”

Visit the museum and explore She Who Tells a Story, on view through July 31, 2016.

—Elizabeth Lynch is the editor at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.