PODCAST: Gallery Girl Meets Middle East Archive Project

My grandparents Ziza and Hani during their wedding ceremony in Cairo, summer of 1969 – Submitted by Lara Nour to Middle East Archive Project

The world is on lockdown mode right now and, while the art world has turned all your favourite exhibition spaces into online viewing rooms, reviews of virtual exhibitions are not really our thing. So, now seemed like the perfect time to start a Gallery Girl podcast, which is focused on highlighting female artists, curators, practitioners and collectives who champion art with roots in West Asia and North Africa. The very first guest is Darah Ghanem, founder of Middle East Archive Project

My mother Vivienne Vartanian and her grandfather Garabed Cholakyan in Aleppo, Syria, 1954 – Submitted by Gallery Girl to Middle East Archive Project

The Middle East Archive Project is a digital platform that crowd-sources family archives from the Middle East and North Africa through open submissions on Instagram. In the episode we talk about the sentiments around family photographs, democratising archives, and the privilege of being able to take, and also keep photographs. “I’m inviting people from all over the world who have roots in this region and have a connection to this community to share the stories of their families”, says Ghanem, “I realised that family archives and archiving is a practice of photography.” The archive includes images of weddings, football games and other celebrations, and each is posted online with a caption about the image written by the person who submitted. “There’s all of this back story that comes with every single memory and moment. I want to know the story that every image is triggered from every family”, adds Ghanem, “One of my favourite aspects of this project is being able to find hundreds of different stories from the same moment of history.”

Darah Ghanem
Darah Ghanem, Founder Middle East Archive Project

An important issue Ghanem raises regarding the project too however, is one of privilege. “A lot of people can’t submit to the project…we assume every family in the region has photographs and had access to a camera over the past 100 years or so…most of the families who have these beautiful images are often very privileged and a lot of people don’t have that”, she explains. Recognising that even being able to start such a project comes from a very privileged position, Ghanem adds: “Being photographed back then wasn’t as easy as it is now, and back then people didn’t have access to a camera or could afford to go to a photo studio and get a picture taken…add to that that a lot of families in our region have experienced conflict, war, displacement…they didn’t have the time to think about being photographed.”

My uncle and aunts at the beach in Yaffa, Palestine in the 1970s – Submitted by Bayan Dahdah to Middle East Archive Project

Given the current coronavirus situation, Ghanem is encouraging people to look through their own personal archives and, as for the future Ghanem is working on a photo book and hoping to organise events where she can present the project in a more intimate way.

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Lizzy Vartanian Collier is a London-based writer and curator. She is the founder of Gallery Girl - a London-based curatorial platform and website dedicated to modern and contemporary art from across the globe. Her work is primarily focused on supporting emerging female artists from the Middle East and the Caucasus. She has written for Canvas Magazine, Harper's Bazaar Arabia, Ibraaz, Jdeed Magazine, Suitcase and Vice Arabia among other publications. Her exhibitions in London and Armenia have been featured in Vogue Arabia, The Art Newspaper, The Art Gorgeous and numerous other news outlets. Gallery Girl has also spoken in the UK, UAE and Belgium about the contemporary art scene in the MENA region, and is planning further events in London and Amman.

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