Iman Al-Dabbag | Shame(less)

Country of origin: Saudi Arabia
Project location: Saudi Arabia
Program: Arab Documentary Photography Program
Year: 2016

This project explores the public, private, and underground lives of artists, who grew up in a society that doesn’t give creative self expression importance in schools, and have been censored from the common Saudi narrative. Some of the artists are: Ahd, an actress and filmmaker who enjoys pole dancing; Zahra, a figurative painter inspired by nudes; Khalid, a musician arrested in 1995 for performing to a mixed gender audience; and Mariam, who fearlessly rides her bike within a society that condemns it. Whether or not they have supportive families, these artists have found ways to express and exhibit their work, while still heeding the three most taboo topics: religion, politics, and the body/sex. In society’s eyes, what they’re doing is “3eib,” a dominant word, reinforced in the home, in schools, and society. 3eib is an umbrella term in Arabic that means socially inappropriate, shameful, or taboo, and the intensity of it varies.

Through the multi layered character encounters, I realized that I was working on unique stories that make up a bigger story: a self-portrait. A story about my memories of growing up here and about my relationship with today’s society, now as an artist and a visitor. A story of resistance, the battle between society’s expectation and what the heart desires, and a story of hope for the next generations to come.

The excerpted texts come from common rhetoric, found writings, and conversations with the artists during times of frustration, and from moments of courage.