Leila Alaoui – RIP

The Death Of Leila Alaoui And Her Message To The World

Leila-Alaoui-©-Yassine-Toumi-2The photographer Leila Alaoui has died aged 33 shot dead by four heavily-armed thugs in an al-Qaeda attack on a popular café in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Alaoui was in Ouagadougou to work on a photography project for a women’s rights campaign called “My Body My Rights” for Amnesty International.
Her work appeared in publications including the New York Times and Vogue, and her photographs have been widely exhibited. She was probably best known for a series of portraits of the Moroccan people, shown recently in Paris at the Biennial of Contemporary Arab World Photography.

“It’s work I began in 2010 but its ongoing, Moroccans have the most complicated relationships to photography among Arabs because they are very apprehensive due to superstition. They are also tired of tourism, so there is a sort of rejection of the camera. My hope was to show traditional Moroccans without the folklore.” – Leila Alaoui

According to Alaoui’s website, she was born in Paris in 1982 and studied photography at City University of New York (CUNY) before spending time in Morocco and Lebanon. Her work had been exhibited internationally in recent years, including at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris, and was featured in newspapers and magazines including The New York Times and Vogu

As she died in a hospital in Burkina Faso, 3,000 miles away in Paris an exhibition of her last completed work The Moroccans was coming to the end of its showing at the prestigious Maison Européenne de la Photographie.
The exhibition featured life-size portraits of people from different communities across Morocco, and Ms Alaoui said the project was designed to counter the “tired exoticisation” of North Africa and the Arab world.

“The Moroccans” is a series of life-sized photographic portraits shot in a mobile studio transported around Morocco. Tapping into my Moroccan heritage, I spent time staying with different communities to create photographs from the perspective of the participant observer, aiming for a more informed angle than an external documentation might take. Rather than being objective, the series adopts the subjectivity of my own position as both an insider and native Moroccan, and simultaneously an outsider as the critically informed documentarian. This hybrid position echoes the postcolonial correction that globally conscious contemporary artists are now mounting worldwide to counterpoint the tired exoticization of North Africa and the Arab region by Euro-American artists through history.

Morocco has a specific position in this backstory of photographers using the culture – particularly elements from native costume and architecture – to construct their own fantasies of an exotic “other” world. Foreign photographers often depict Westerners in Morocco when they want

to convey glamour or elegance, while framing local people rustic or folkloric, reiterating the patronizing gaze of the Orientalist.

My intention was to counter this in these portraits by adopting similar studio techniques to photographers such as Richard Avedon in his series “In the American West”, who portrays his subjects as empowered and glamorous, drawing out the innate pride and entitlement of each individual person.

Inspired by Robert Frank’s portrayal of post-war America through “The Americans”, I embarked on a road trip through rural Morocco to photograph women, men and children from diverse ethnic and tribal groups including Berbers and Arabs. This on-going project serves as a visual archive of the Moroccan traditions and aesthetics now disappearing with globalization.

Read the full article on Lens Magazine Issue #17 -“The Wild Side”


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