A woman lies face down on the ground. Her hair is drawn out over her head and clasped between two rocks. The photograph, captured in a warm monochrome, is by Moroccan artist Khadija El Abyad.
It is one out of five in a series titled Defile de L’intime that present human hair as a metaphor for the body. The images are a performance, the artist says, “to embody the caricatures and taboos woven into the female form".
The series was selected as the winner of the Staged Photography category at this year’s Vantage Point Sharjah, a three-month exhibition by the Sharjah Art Foundation that began on Saturday.
The event, now in its ninth year, has returned to Al Hamriyah Studios, where it took place last year. Works by 50 photographs from 30 countries are being featured in the space. The photographs are being exhibited under four novel categories – conceptual, experimental, photojournalism and documentary, and staged photography.
A jury of four well-established photographers – Ammar Al Attar, Sham Enbashi, Alia Al Shamsi and M’hammed Kilito – sifted through more than 500 photographs, selecting a winner from every category. Winners will each receive $1,500.
“Successful works of staged photography are the ones that allow room for the naturally existing and the uncontrollable to exist simultaneously,” Enbashi said of El Abyad’s photographs. “I believe [she] achieved that successfully.”
Turkish photographer Isik Kaya was named the winner of the conceptual photography category. The works show cellular towers disguised amid palm trees and touch on the fantastical. The artist has played with shadow and colour – saturating greens with a neon intensity in some photographs and brushing a sepia-like tint on others.
These images are part of a series titled Second Nature, which, according to the artist, “explores artefacts of the digital age that have become part of the South Californian landscape”. Camouflaged cell towers, which were first manufactured in 1992, are “a metaphor for how the idea of utility determines the neoliberal relationship with nature”.
“Second Nature is an original project with a sophisticated visual language whose technical execution is exemplary,” Kilito said of the winning work. “It stimulates and connects with the viewer's intellect and emotions, inviting us to stop, engage and want to discover more about the subject at hand."
Devashish Gaur was selected as winner of the experimental photography award for his six-part photo series This is the Closest We Will Get. The work is an intergenerational exploration of identity as Gaur attempts to reconstruct the life of his grandfather, whom he never met but whose habits and interests he is told he shares.
The journey of discovery also prompts the Indian artist to explore his relationship with his father, from whom he feels distant despite living in proximity. The exhibited photographs show collaged strips of eyes, old family portraits and pictures Gaur captured of his grandfather’s house.
“Gaur was often told that he shared the same character as his grandfather,” jury member Al Attar said. “He imbues his photographic series with this connection, depicting stories from his grandfather and addresses complex subjects like existence, balance and intimacy with loved ones lost.”
Bangladeshi photographer Reyad Abedin won the award for photojournalism and documentary photography for works from both his In Search of Lost Tune and The Name of My City is Dust, Smoke and Life series.
“The photographs aim to show how radical changes in the environment can have devastating results that endanger the human race,” Abedin says. The works show Dhaka as it undergoes drastic yet ill-planned infrastructural changes, carried out with no regard for ecological impact.
“Abedin’s body of work transmutes a level of peacefulness and aesthetic beauty that not only captures the attention of the viewer but engages him/her to lose him/herself within the image that without words narrates a story,” jury member Al Shamsi said.
May Rashid, who is part of the curatorial team behind Vantage Point Sharjah, says the annual exhibition traditionally focused on themes that included portraiture, performance, and architecture and urban landscape. This year, the team decided to expand the playing field.
“We wanted to show a wider range of exploring photography as a medium,” she says.
Deciding on how to exhibit works by more than 50 artists may have been a curatorial challenge, but Rashid says the team noticed recurring themes in many of the submissions.
“A large group of them discussed issues related to identity and also reflected on the environment around them,” she says. “Many of them talk about the environmental issues in the places they are living in. Most also touched upon recent global events, from riots to being stuck at home.”
Instead of being organised according to category, the long hallways of Al Hamriyah Studios, which border a central open-air courtyard, are decked with disparate photographs that blend narratively and thematically.
“It was interesting how each photographer was speaking to the other, without them knowing one another,” Rashid says. There are also photographers who captured the same event, but from two varying perspectives.
“We had two photographers document the recent Delhi riots; you can see different perspectives in each of them,” she says. “While one captured the violence, the other depicted the protesting aspect of it, of people coming together.”
Vantage Point Sharjah 9 will be showing at Al Hamriyah Studios in Al Hamriyah from September 18 to December 18