Photographer of the Week #99: Wasma Mansour

Our select for this week is Wasma Mansour. She is a Saudi artist who works in Saudi Arabia and the UK. Her photographic practice involves oral history and text as she unravels constructions of single Saudi women in the UK. For this feature, we’re sharing images from her series, a package, of a package, of a package.

“Within a Middle Eastern context, a commodity such as a veil has been very powerful, becoming transfixed as a symbol synonymous with oppression, backwardness, weakness etc. In reality, however, it might be a personal choice (e.g. Egypt), a religious duty (e.g. Iran), a socio-religious obligation (e.g. Saudi Arabia), or a sign of resistance (e.g. Algeria). Common visual tropes inextricably link the veil to the Saudi woman.

For the women I’ve worked with, the veil, or abaya, is a garment they own but do not use outside of Saudi Arabia. So it made perfect sense, for me, to change my approach when exploring the veil in a way that differed from how I photographed the participants’ possessions in my Still Life series. I felt that a studio environment would be the ideal space to study these garments as ‘objects’. I simplified the setting to just a white backdrop, and photographed the veils in the same way I received them; in other words, inside the commercial bags. With this setup, I aimed to highlight details, such as wear and tear, makeup stains or the writing on the garments’ labels; details that might offer insights into the owners’ lives and experiences.”

As with the rest of her portfolio, Mansour’s images are expertly executed with strong lighting and composition. a package, of a package, of a package is a complex series that attempts to expose the way we “see” loaded objects. Through these photographs, Mansour creatively allows the viewer to actively engage with the idea of the veil. Within their stark and simplistic white backgrounds, these veils limply exist within their bags—both of rigid paper and brightly colored plastic—as nothing more than the pieces of fabric that they are.

Mansour is a contributor to Kalimat Magazine and #Phonar. She’s also currently finishing a PhD at the College of Communication, University of the Arts London. For more from Mansour, please take a look at her website.