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Through Her Eyes

A collective of Middle Eastern female photographers brings a new perspective to D.C.

Author Nicholas DeRenzo Photography Newsha Tavakolian, Untitled, from the series Listen, 2010; Pigment print, 393⁄8 x 47¼ in.; Courtesy of the artist and East Wing Contemporary Gallery

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You may not be able to walk a mile in their shoes, but peering through their lenses might do the trick. Opening April 8 at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, in Washington, D.C., the exhibit She Who Tells a Story: Women Photographers from Iran and the Arab World brings together 80 stereotype-challenging, genre-defying works. 

The show takes its name from the Arabic word rawiya (“she who tells a story”), which is the name of a collective of Middle Eastern women photographers founded in 2009. What’s striking about the works is how they dispel the idea, put forth by the international media, that these women are homogeneous and invisible. The photos are feisty, provocative, and, above all, thought-provoking. 

Take, for instance, Lebanese-American Rania Matar, whose portraits of teenage girls in their bedrooms across the U.S. and the Middle East illustrate cross-cultural similarities (Beirut has its Beliebers too), or Cairo- and London-based Nermine Hammam, who pairs images of soldiers from Tahrir Square with idyllic postcard backgrounds. For her Listen series, self-taught Iranian photographer Newsha Tavakolian shot imaginary album covers (like the one above) for female singers who, due to Iranian law, are not allowed to produce recordings or sing solo in public. Tavakolian displays the covers (which feature her sister dressed in black in various settings) alongside videos of the women singing—with the sound turned off. — NICHOLAS DERENZO

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