Photography Project: Postcards of Women

Reclamation: Bodies of Dead Angels


 As an artist, my practice is inseparable from that of a woman at home, inside looking out. Making among my things, household objects around me. Creating worlds, shadowboxes, small things on stages, collecting, cutting, pressing. Spinning truth together with fiction, mixing the colour of personal memory with other women’s pasts, and exploring current issues women face. The personal and intimate embodied life of a woman is fascinating to me. Yet her image has been ‘taken’ in so many ways. My current work revolves around 19th century postcards of women:

The bodies of dead angels? - beautiful faked images of women whom cannot be resurrected to be asked about their truth. How can we ‘know’ them, or begin to deflect the ‘gazes’ including our own that are falling on these women?

Trying to rescue ‘her’. Reclaiming a look, an emotion, reinstating inner life, decolonising, reinstating the body and it’s sensations. Breathe life into ‘her’ again, not as truth but as an impossible longing to memorialise ‘her’ as she might have been. Exploring a dangerous territory, and living between ‘East’ and ‘West’. Using a shadowbox I made, and vintage lenses, 35mm film, projection, collage, ink, personal things, inescapable memories inside the body. Resurrecting Ornament to adore, adorn, raise up, or to entrap the ‘evil’ of the gaze.

Throwing light, casting doubt, telling tales: Making The Postcard Women’s Imaginarium:

I created and set up the project called Making The Postcard Women’s Imaginarium in August 2018 and began to invite other artists, poets and writers to respond to colonial postcards of women. I had started a new body of work called Palimpsests: Presences of Others after I had found a postcard of a so-called ‘Egyptian woman’. I was already working with found images of women from magazines and media. I started collecting more postcards from Egypt. I wanted to find a way to approach the so-called ‘Egyptian woman’ on these postcards as a way to approach my own Egyptian and British identity. I found unexpected lineages and relationships stretching across time, history and unequal power relationships. I began using the aesthetics of ornament and my understanding of the Zar ritual, which had long fascinated me, as visual/physical metaphors for how marginalised and erased identities and colonising presences could be hidden beneath the images of the postcard women, and so perhaps are hidden within me. The Zar ritual – repeated gestures, movements, role-play, concepts, songs, rhythms, scents, objects - passed on over generations, works to sustain embodied memories of those generations and their origins, identities and histories, carried to Egypt via enslavement and war from far away places. It is also a ritual that helps women to deal with oppressive, malign or foreign forces beyond their control. The purpose is not to expel those presences, but to find accommodation and ways of being that permit healing. I began projecting over the Postcard Women, overlaying them with traces and patterns, light and shadow, using materials to suggest those past auras, presences, movements and ways of being that may have been deeply embodied in ‘her’ personal and every day life. Identity and memory of past generations, their pain, trauma and knowledge is handed down in the flesh. 

Read more on the Postcard-Imaginarium blog.

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