SAO PAULO – A girl poses for the camera in short pants and high heels, her fingernails painted red and with a fancy hairdo. A scene like that is easy to see on the streets of any metropolis of the western world, but this time it was snapped in the Lebanese capital of Beirut.
The portrait of the girl Dania was taken by photographer Rania Matar and is one of the 78 shots in the exhibition “Taswir – the Contemporary Arab Photographer,” which opens this Friday at the Tomie Ohtake Institute in Sao Paulo and which offers a different perspective of daily life in countries scarred by armed conflicts.
Well beyond the wars and the stereotypes forged over long decades of bloodshed, the exhibit turns the essence and details of life in Arab countries into pictures and recovers the riches of the history, culture and society of that region.
“People always think that what goes on there is what we see on the TV news, but we forget there is a life beyond the war and destruction,” Lazare Mohamed Djeddaoui, who spent a month in Syria compiling stories and photos of the daily life of the locals, told EFE.
During the four weeks of winter in 2014 when he stayed near Aleppo, controlled at the time by the Islamic State, he got to know people like teachers, doctors and “youngsters with dreams.”
Now, through his photos, he hopes that “the world can see Syria” with “the same enchantment” that overcame him.
“Of course you can also see the war, but that’s not all Syria is. My goal is to help people recall the life and the little things that go on there, aside from the war,” Djeddaoui said.
A smiling group of women celebrating a wedding, two boys playing ball and backstage at a theater are some of the scenes captured by the cameras of 14 photographers from countries including Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Palestine and Jordan that make up the exhibition.
Also in the show are girls in skimpy clothes and teens wearing daring dresses and flirting with the camera – scenes undoubtedly shocking to the social conservatives of some countries in the region and on show here for the first time since the exhibit’s inauguration last year in Paris at the Arab World Institute.
For the spokesman of the institute, Mario Chouery, photography is “the perfect tool” for approaching the “contemporary” Arab world.
Along the same line, the exhibit’s curator, Silvia Antibas, said that its purpose is to explore “all the diversity that is Arab culture” and show that “people in those countries lead normal lives: they work, study, get married, have children and go to parties.”
The exhibit scrutinizes by means of “taswir” – the act of photographing in Arabic – a wide range of subjects that go from technical and aesthetic matters to subjects emerging in today’s Arab world like feminism, individual freedom and gender identity.
And at the same time that spectators are enchanted by the joy of a young couple – immortalized in a snapshot – they find it impossible to ignore the holes in the walls of their new home left by bomb blasts.
“That complex interpretation of Arab communities moves us. The artists portray them without cliches and with color, image and light, while also speaking in the first person,” Antibas said.