She can move you to tears. She can crack you up in a second. And after a 40-minute conversation, she can make you feel like an old friend. That’s Amira Al-Sharif, the globally published Yemeni photographer who travels across her country to document the unquenchable spirit that resides in its women. Her project “Unveiling Misconceptions: A Muslim Woman Documents the Lives of American Women” loosened cultural barriers and opened the doors to exhibitions in the USA, Netherlands, England, Sweden and recently Spain.
What did you discover while documenting American women?
I wanted to know how it feels to be American. And I really love the way you can be whoever you want to be there. But the truth is we are not that different in the end.
What’s the most surprising comment your pictures sparked?
More than the comments, it’s their questions that surprise me, all these ideas about women wearing the veil: “They swim wearing abayas, really?” What I try to communicate in my photos is that being veiled doesn’t limit you, it doesn’t change the way you see the world.
And what’s your favorite story behind the pictures?
Sayeeda’a, a young widow I photographed last January. She works nine hours a day in a mountain where she cuts stones to sell them to feed her four children. When I hugged her after taking the photographs, her back was really wet and I could feel her thin body. And she was not even complaining! I was facing many problems at that moment, but she made me think: “Amira, this woman is cutting a mountain and she’s still smiling, why are you complaining? You just need to finish a report!” All these women, they change something about you.
You are giving them a microphone, and visibility.
They are the ones who are giving me a vision. They are teaching me how to see the world. You look into their lives, see them fighting back when they are married early, or by force, or losing custody of their kids. They are dealing with all this injustice and they still hold their heads up, without complaining. It really makes you a different person.
For more information – Amira Al-Sharif’s website.