Yumna Al-Arashi, a young photographer challenges global perceptions of Muslim women through her work while cannily ratifying their moments of emancipation from culture and belief through social media.
On Instagram, 28-year-old Yumna Al-Arashi in photographs projects a bold, restless and multi-faceted personality. Her photographs, however, project a quiet strength, sophistication and thoughtfulness. Nonetheless, she’s kept true to her generation through curiosity, wanderlust and a keen awareness of social issues.
A first generation American, Yumna’s a product of a Yemeni and Egyptian parents who grew up in Washington D.C. and is currently residing in London. ‘Although I’m American, I believe London has a fruitful environment for the art world – for women making art surrounding the subject matter I cover,’ she explains. This mingling of contrasting cultures is evident in her work and her opinions, especially on stereotypical perceptions of women. Yes, particularly, Arab women. Straddling two contrasting worlds of where she is culturally linked to and where she was brought up – and considering today’s state of the world – Yumna finds it a challenge to find a balance between both worlds. ‘I think that’s why my art’s so important to me because I believe a lot of first generation women experience so many of the similar things I express in my work,’ she adds.
Although she features many of her photographs that reflect her feminist viewpoints on her social media pages, her series shot in Northern Yemen utterly captivates. In the time of when so much unrest is taking place in that country, Yumna’s photographs capture and remind us of its elusive beauty, landscapes of contrasting textures and colours.
She’s good at contrasts. In fact, her work thrives on it. In May 2017, Yumna held her first solo photography exhibition in New York. Titled Shedding Skin, the series featured never seen before scenes – Arab women during their bath in a hammam in Beirut.
Process that fact for a minute.
Now, let go of any preconceived stereotypes you might have of women from the Middle East and of the Muslim faith. Embrace the fact that they are quintessentially female who are adapting centuries-old culture as well as beliefs to the modern era in which they live, the best way they can and within the limits their society allows.
Yumna firmly believes Muslim women living and reflecting modernity and post – feminism are still conflicted due to a patriarchal society, religious and cultural beliefs. ‘A hundred per cent! No matter what world we live in, our bodies and identities aren’t our own. Our voices are barely heard in the discussions about Muslim culture for women. That’s the biggest problem,’ she says. She hopes she advocates change through her art.
Art, Yumna agrees has been a big influence in directing society toward gender equality. ‘Absolutely,’ she affirms and is a big advocate of feminism through her art. ‘I believe so strongly in my feminism and that my art has the power to help others see change and feel more passion towards making [that change],’ she says. However, Yumna believes our work when it comes to the eradication of gender inequality, is far from over. ‘I believe our work has only just begun. Feminism has found its way forward into many public and private sectors of our lives but has also made regression in many ways due to political climates,’ she adds.
In many ways, Yumna’s photographs have defined her. ‘My entire life revolves around my artwork. It’s my bread and butter. It’s my voice, it’s everything,’ she admits and through online platforms such as Instagram and Facebook, she’s able to reach to a larger audience.
In real life though, Yumna has been something of a nomad. ‘I love to travel and to experience new worlds. I love meeting and working with Muslim women from all backgrounds and I’m so interested in the world in which Malaysia holds for many of them,’ she says, concluding our interview.
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