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Fawz Kabra: On Jowhara AlSaud’s Dual Censorship

January 28, 2014

A studio visit shows how the photographer obscures her images in order to reveal.

Jowhara AlSaud’s images reveal the latent possibilities of her medium, photography. In manipulating portraits of friends and family in her series Out of Line (2008-2010) and further obscuring her subjects in Knots (2011-2012), the artist explores social and authoritarian notions of censorship. She draws on traditions and taboos in her native Saudi Arabia and other Arab Gulf countries, investigating the barriers between private and public as she subtracts visual details from her work to conceal certain forms and reveal others.

The negatives AlSaud produces become a surface for editing. She scrapes away the emulsion with dental tools and engravers, leaving behind lines that trace each figure. As she describes it, “You end up with something similar to a stencil, but instead of paint, it’s light that fills in the blanks.” In Knots, the artist is inspired by the idea of the mashrabiya—Arabic for an ornamental latticework window or separator. Here, she draws knots that perform as screens that are applied directly over her portraits, playing with negative and positive space.

AlSaud covers up by scratching away at the surface. By concealing, emptying, and partitioning, she looks at what censorship might mean in both the public and private spheres. Ultimately, her work suggests that the meaning of censorship is twofold: censorship as a form of authoritarian control, and censorship of the self so as to remain anonymous.

—Fawz Kabra

Jowhara AlSaud was runner-up for the 2008 Aperture Foundation Portfolio Prize, a Magenta Foundation’s Flash Forward 2010: Emerging Photographers finalist, and the International Photography Awards 2010 finalist. She has exhibited her work internationally in both group and solo shows, most recently at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London. She has also exhibited at international art fairs in Miami, New York, Chicago, Palm Beach, Paris, Mexico, Rotterdam, Dubai, and Art Basel, Switzerland.

Fawz Kabra is a writer and curator. She has worked with the Emirates Foundation, Abu Dhabi (2007), and curated public programs at the Cultural District, Abu Dhabi, from 2008-2011. She co-curated the ongoing project Brief Histories (Sharjah, UAE, 2011), which explores responsive practices to the rapidly shifting contexts and meanings in current global issues. Fawz also worked with the Park Avenue Armory for WS: Paul McCarthy (2013). She is an editorial correspondent for Ibraaz and is the 2014 Curator of Art Dubai Projects.

In partnership with Free Word and the Open Society Foundations, Guernica‘s next issue will focus on Free Expression. Every day this week, Guernica Daily brings you a story illuminating a gray area of free expression:

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Emily Strasser: Signal Fires on the Tibetan Plateau

Xiaolu Guo: Why Do We Still Pretend We Are Free?

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