Paris exhibition woos visitors with ‘authentic’ photography

Photoquai showcases 40 emerging photographers with global perspectives on the challenges facing everyday people

Asma Ajroudi
Asma Ajroudi - Al Arabiya News - Paris
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It is no surprise that Paris is often described as the art and cultural hub of the world.

Even as one goes out of his or her way to avoid the long queues of Paris’ iconic museums and opts for a typical promenade down La Seine, they could accidently walk into an outdoors photography exhibition: Photoquai.

Set up at the riverbanks of La Seine, with the monumental Eiffel Tower in the background, Photoquai is featuring the works of 40 non-Western emerging and little-known photographers.

Organized by Musée de Quai Branly, the museum-quality collection of 400 photographs is on show 24/7 until Nov. 22.

Displayed in a mosaic-like linear pathway of oversized planks, with every three steps passers-by find themselves departing the comfort and rapid-pace of Europe to a journey in the daily life of another corner of the world.

“We have the tendency to see what is happening in the world through the eyes of Europeans. In this exhibition, you have the outsider’s view on the outside,” Louise Winfield, a communications coordinator for the exhibition, told Al Arabiya News.

“The objective is to solicit different reactions and to give the microphone to these young photographers.”

All corresponding to the theme “We Are Family,” the photographs expose practices and issues that link certain peoples together and turn them into a “diaspora” or a “family” of some sort.

A common practice in West Africa, scarification can symbolize identity in a number of ways. (Al Arabiya News)
A common practice in West Africa, scarification can symbolize identity in a number of ways. (Al Arabiya News)

Hââbré, the Last Generation,” by Joana Choumali, is a series of portraits that trace the once-dominant tradition of facial scarification in the Ivory Coast.

A common practice in West Africa, scarification can symbolize identity in a number of ways, whether it is community status or connection to ancestors or gods, or simply a passage into adulthood, according to a National Geographic report.

"I remember Mr. Ekra, the driver who took me to school. Ekra had large scars that marked his face from temple to chin," Choumali told the Huffington Post.

"I found these fascinating geometric shapes. Ekra was not an exception. It was common to see people of various scars proudly display their social origins."

“The scarification series is the first collection I saw when I entered the exhibition. And I was immediately attracted to them,” said Sarah Bazin, a Brazilian student living in Paris.

“But couldn't help wondering if those types of cultural scarifications are still being done to the new generation,” Bazin said.

Choumali claims to have captured the final remnants of what is now being considered a dying tradition in the Ivory Coast.

The number of unmarried mothers in Morocco is estimated to be around 220,000 in 2015. (Al Arabiya News)
The number of unmarried mothers in Morocco is estimated to be around 220,000 in 2015. (Al Arabiya News)

Another captivating series is “My Taboo Child,” by Zara Samiry, a Moroccan photographer, which sheds light on the struggles single mothers face in the North African country, and the stigma surrounding having children out of the wedlock.

A 2011 study published by a Casablanca support group, the Institution Nationale de Soladirté avec les Femmes en Déstresse (INSAF), showed that the number of Moroccan unwed mothers more than doubled to 27,200 in 2009 from 11,016 in 2008.

The number of unmarried mothers in Morocco is estimated to be around 220,000 in 2015. Up to 61% of single mothers are under the age of 26.

“The looks on those children eyes while staring straight into the camera and the bond that they seem to have with their mother were very touching,” Bazin said.

The Middle East is also featured in another collection of Photoquai: “Minya’s Kids,” by French-Egyptian photographer Myriam Abdelaziz.

She chronicles child labor in Egypt’s Menya province, through portraits of dirty-faced children stacking bricks and bagging dust in a mine.

The limestone quarries of Menya, which lies on the banks of the Nile River 150 miles south of Cairo, is considered the economic lifeblood of the region.

It is estimated that 1.8 million Egyptian children are employed, 90% of which are engaged in child labor in conformity with international definitions, according to a 2010 study carried out by 2010 International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC), an initiative by the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

Global outreach

Other than Africa and the Middle East, Photoquai is also displaying the works of photographers from Asia, Oceana and the Americas – drawn from the geographical areas represented in the collections of the museum.

An example of this is Chinese photographer Xiao Zhang’s “Coastline,” which captures a different aspect of China’s rapid industrialization.

Speaking about a photo of a man pulling a small-sized boat with a crowd onboard to the shores, Mingmin Wu, a Chinese Paris-based journalist, told Al Arabiya News “the idea of this picture just corresponds very well with part of the reality in the country.”

“The picture gives me the impression that we are a group of people that is searching for a better future but are in a period of loss,” said Wu.

“China is in plain development. But at the same time we have lots of social problems and people are searching for better opportunities but are facing challenges too. With this picture, we can feel this tension and this stress,” she added.

Chai Na Champassak, a French finance student, said the best thing about the exhibition is that it shows “a side of a country that you had no idea about.”

“It makes you more conscious about other parts of the world that you might only know through the news, which is usually about politics and wars, not the daily life, not what the people truly do: their activities, their standards of life, their life in general,” Champassak said.

The selection of the 40 photographers was made by the artistic director, Spanish photojournalist Frank Kalero, and a curatorial team of experts.

The exhibition, which was first launched in 2007, runs every other year.

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