Eman Ali’s first dabble with self-portraiture was a way for her to send love letters to her long distance partner.
Since then, she’s developed a solid visual identity around her portraiture and created a movie-like universe for her work to live in.
“By carefully staging scenes that reflect upon, and comment on what it is like to be a woman in contemporary Arab society, I explore religious, socio-political and consumerist ideologies under the umbrella of desire and the performance of gender in the Gulf region”, says 31-year-old Omani photographer.
Ali’s work is both a reflection of her experience growing up in the Gulf and her wider engagement with the world today. “I don’t intend to create work of a political nature but when you are dealing with the female body and you are reacting to ideological and religious debates around this by default the work presents itself as having a political stance”, she says.
Ali’s work has resonated with people on a global scale, with her 2016 photograph Three Arab Men in Drag having gone viral in the wake of the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Ali posted one of the photographs on her Instagram account and by the following day, the news about the shooting was everywhere and the image was reposted thousands of times. With the striking image published in all international news titles – the image became a symbol of solidarity for the victims of the shooting. “Through my work I want to create a tangible language of a given sentiment and if this somehow resonates with the viewer then it is an achievement for me”, she says.
While Ali believes creativity should be used as a means to raise awareness and to explore the cultural complexities of the Gulf region, she admits Arab art is not necessarily inherently political. “I believe in art for art’s sake. Yet, as women, we have more agency on how we represent ourselves so we must continue moving towards a truer expression of who we are. Our voice is our power”.