A series of portraits attempting to examine the relationship between a woman and her practice
Photo essay | | 23 May 2021
‘I suffer and I feel that I am in exile. But when I write stories, I am like someone who is in her own country, walking along streets that she has known since she was a child, between walls and streets that are hers...This is my vocation and I shall work at it until I die.’
Natalia Ginzburg, My Vocation (1949)
Taking a portrait does not come easy to me. It frightens me, actually. I think this fear might stem from my own dread of being photographed. One feels vulnerable sitting there, conscious of and reduced to one’s own corporal limits, opposing the speculative succession of shots, hoping that at least one turns out. Observing behind a camera, however, reveals another kind of strain and performance. It necessitates a delicate balance of power and an exchange of trust. One must learn to give in to two simultaneously opposing tensions. With a swift closure of shutters, essence is contained in 1/125 of a second.
‘In Her Country’ is a series of portraits I started in February 2020, through which I attempted to examine the relationship between a woman and her practice. I consider this relationship just as worthy of being documented as any other. One that can endure the vagaries of life. One that necessitates dedication, and calls for sacrifices we sometimes cannot afford. This context was crucial to my desire to create portraits that are for and not of, that admire, honour, and give women agency in how they want to be represented.
I reached out to several women. Some were close to me and others I hadn’t met before, but all of them were generous with their truth. These photographs were taken in spaces that are meaningful to them and to their craft, and are accompanied by their own words on the significance of their vocations.
Eman, Writer and Translator
It was, at that moment, translating the final statement made by Lily Briscoe in Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, I realised that I must pursue my vision, my novel. I just turned forty last October, an age when you’re supposed to have achieved your dreams, and if not, then at least, as a woman, you should already have started your own family and had your own children. Well, I have achieved neither. For almost twenty years I have been lost and distracted. Even though I had a job that was financially fulfilling, not for one second did I feel spiritually fulfilled. I simply did not belong there. However, two years ago, literary translation set me back into my path. Rewriting other writers’ novels in my own language gave me the tools and courage to write my own novel, to manifest my own voice. So it happened, that my gift to myself, on my 40th birthday, was to quit my job and dedicate the rest of my life to literary writing and translation. Maybe no one will read my words, but it’s not a reader I’m looking for. Realising my vision—that is what I seek.
Shahd, Writer and Professor of English Literature
Being a literature professor was a dream I never thought could come true. Amongst my books, I belong. In the classroom I feel a sense of adrenaline. I feel that my body is healthy and alive. I have struggled with multiple sclerosis since I was eighteen. To me, being alive and healthy is a privilege. My literary world gives me room to exist, to be, and to breathe. It is an escape even from my own body. The library is the place that embraces me for who I am. Literature saves my life every day.
Sara, Yoga Teacher
In my healing journey, I knew I wanted to share this love with others.
To introduce love to them as I introduced it to myself.
Amira, Piano Teacher
I started playing the piano at a very young age. It was a hobby at first, but my love for music grew within me over the years. Despite setbacks, I was able to pursue and complete my studies in music and earn a master’s in composition. After graduating, I got married and, with my husband, moved to Kuwait for what was to be only a temporary stay. He passed away when I was pregnant with my son. At some point, I was offered a job as assistant professor back in my university, but I couldn’t take it: I had a home and a child to raise here. I do not regret it one bit. Everything changes when you are a mother. Everything you once cared so deeply about takes second place and it doesn’t feel like a sacrifice. Now that he is older, I have more time for myself and my music. I even listen to it differently now, for the mere enjoyment of it. My love for it never wavered.
Shurooq, Painter and Poet
Sarah, Children’s Book Author
Dima Assad is a Jordanian photographer based in Kuwait. Her photo-essays examine social narratives, raising questions of identity and belonging.