The Light from the Middle East exhibition at the V&A is a must see. Not because I liked everything about it, but because you won’t leave without want to see more of something. Anything.
For what seems like a missed opportunity, I would have liked to see work a little less obvious.
But despite a few flaws, some interesting concepts still do make an appearance.
Mehraneh Atashi’s Zourkhaneh Project (2004) has photographs taken in a traditional Iranian gymnasium that, typically a male bastion, ‘forbids the breath of women’ inside. By capturing herself within the images, Atashi hijacks the space, making the images as much about her presence as it is about the wrestlers.
Newsha Tavakolian’s series Mothers of Martyrs (2006) depict elderly Iranian women holding framed photographs of their sons who died in the Iran–Iraq war (1980–88). Looking at these photographs, you get a strong sense of how time stops for the person within the photograph but not for the one holding it.
Abbas Kowsari has an interesting image titled Halabche (2003), that depicts the torso of an armed Kurdish combatant with an ironic Bryan Adams t-shirt on.
And Hassan Hajjaj’s Saida in Green (2000) made me smile.
But then again most of these works are several years old, and the Middle East has changed in leaps and bounds since then. Which makes me question how this exhibition could ever be representative of photography in the Arab countries as it stands today?
Still, go see the show for the free entry and if only for a good think about how easily the exotic can become the patronised.