SAUDI DIVAZ THROUGH THE EYES OF A YOUNG FEMALE PHOTOGRAPHER
Saudi New Wave _ Norah Al-Amri
Saudi Arabia is witnessing a transformational era on all levels and one day -not far from now-, the kingdom as we know it will be a thing of the past. So what’s better than a photographer who’s dedicated to the streets and culture of Saudi Arabia to document these changing times in timeless photographs for the world to see?
Norah Alamri is a twenty-eight year old photographer based in Riyadh. Her photographs are about everything and everywhere around the kingdom with only one thing in common: they all focus on the humane aspect.. Real moments and real people. She graduated with a degree in Art education and she’s been tirelessly spreading art and supporting artists in her country for years through workshops, training or founding her own non-profit art community. We sat down with Norah to know more about her and to gain a better perspective of Saudi Arabia and its Divaz through the eyes of a young female photographer.
Shot on Location: Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Photographer: Norah Al Amri / Text: Aya Nassar
How do you feel these fast changes throughout the past few years affected the culture?
Personally, I think the lifestyle itself changed. For example, the shops and restaurants were divided into men’s and women’s parts and they were clearly separated. It was very hard for both genders to connect, but after the decisions of crown prince Mohammed bin Salman and the vision for 2030, a lot has changed such as allowing women to drive -which was a huge change back in 2018.. No one believed it would ever happen!- and all places were opened for everyone without a specification to a gender or one’s marital status so both genders were able to deal with each other more openly and in every field.
Did you notice a shift in how people think or how they see the future?
Yes I’ve noticed a huge shift in people’s mindsets. We’ve started seeing independent women everywhere, the traditional official clothes aren’t obligatory anymore, there’s more freedom for one to be whoever they want to be, and finally, domestic tourism is starting to put a spotlight on important historical places and working to attract tourists such as Tantora winter at the town of Al-Ula and the huge music festival MDL Beast which took place in Riyadh and had many global celebrities and Djs after facilitating the saudi tourist visa. People are delighted with these changes!
In the light of the current changes with the kingdom embracing art and artists more and more, did you experience any changes in your work? What change you'd like to see happening the most in the near future to the arts and entertainment industry?
In 2018, some governmental institutions started to focus on having exhibitions and artistic events that help the artists showcase their work, exchange experiences and have better opportunities. The ministry of culture was established which includes several authorities as the Visual Arts Authority, and the Film Authority among others. For me, I haven’t experienced that many changes as we’re just starting I guess. The only thing I hope to see in the future is constant photography exhibitions and an audience for that field.
When did you know that you want to document stories through photographs? And how did you start your photography journey?
I’ve always loved art in all its forms, but I started in 2010. I was interested in photographing literally everything: from empty streets and falling leaves to buildings and people. I was attracted to documentary photography after I saw the work of international documentary artists and discovering how important it is to history and how crucial it is to document the events, especially in Saudia Arabia as there aren’t documentaries or references for the current events or the culture and local stories. I truly believe in the power of documenting and photographing to show what’s happening and save the special moments whether it’s a story about someone or an important political event or anything.
Being a female photographer in Saudi Arabia is remarkable.. Have you faced any difficulties while starting out your career?
Being a female photographer in my country gave me the opportunity to get close to photograph people easily and especially women. There are a reasonable number of unique saudi female photographers and I’m happy that I started in this field. As for the difficulties, I haven’t faced any so far, but I think the problem is that documentary photography specifically and street photography generally aren’t well-known in Saudi Arabia. However, that started to change with establishing the Visual Arts authority which includes photography. I’m looking forward to a bright future in this aspect.
Describe for us how you see the Divaz of Saudi Arabia. Can you tell us some of your favorite Divaz of the region?
I guess the Divaz of Saudi Arabia are the ones who are successful and known for being creative, passionate and have their own remarkable mark in life! I’ll have to say the artist Ahmed Matar and princess Deena Aljuhani.
You’ve founded the nonprofit “Momarasah”; Can you tell us more about this experience?
When I first went to college I majored in something I didn’t like so I decided to study the thing that I loved and after a year I transferred to Art education. Upon graduating in 2016, I discovered that there wasn’t a place to learn and practice art in whatever form in all of my city. Because I wanted to learn more and help amateurs like myself learn, I decided to start this initiative and meant for it to be non-profit so that the benefit pervades and the concept of art is spread between people. I researched and applied for a competition that supports ideas for education problems. I argued the availability of places of art education for children and adults alike. The initiative -Thank god!- was accepted and funded with a small number that kickstarted the planning, preparation of required tools, contacting interested parties, and the implementation of the activities. I made sure the activities were in public places and in the main hanging spots in addition to being convenient for the artists. The purpose was to raise awareness and increase theoretical and practical knowledge so we contacted pioneer artists in the kingdom to meet young amateurs and give them their experience in live talks and discussions. We’ve done more than 35 events; one exhibition at the national museum, more than 10 workshops for children and adults, several visits to exhibitions and museums and finally, visits to the studios of pioneer artists. I’m so so happy to be one of the people who contributed, even with little, to encouraging young people to believe in their potential and develop their skills as well as opening up opportunities for them.
You have several projects such as Samiha, the street artist, and behind windows among others.. What project you’d say is closest to your heart? Can you tell us what it was like behind the scenes?
Every image I took has a special place in my heart, but Samiha is one of the stories that I love so much because it touched me as she loves art and practices what she loves despite the harsh circumstances. She made drawings with colored chalk on the street and had her friends join her. Behind the scenes it was wholesome conversations, hugs and laughs. I left my fingerprint there too.. we drew together and switched roles as the girls took the phone and took a photo of me, Samiha, and some other girls!
Your Covid-19 photos are amazing.. Do you feel that the quarantine affected the creatives positively or negatively? How did you, personally, find this time?
Thank you so much! Yes I think it definitely affected the creative minds positively. It made room to capture important unprecedented moments. Personally, I went to covid-19’s testing drive thrus to capture the details. I also try to capture people in public places and how everything changed.. Everyone is wearing masks and social distancing amid the global pandemic.
A city in the region you’d like to shoot in and explore the most?
I’d like to visit Tabuk and Hail because their customs and traditions are a little different than the other cities and also their nature is different.
If there’s one stereotype about Saudi Arabians and Saudi Arabia that you’d like to prove wrong to the world, what would it be?
When I meet people from outside Saudi Arabia, I’m always asked about the lifestyle there. Do we use camels for transportation? Do we live in tents?. Many also believe that Saudi Arabians are uneducated and undeveloped people who know nothing about fashion and the latest trends. The truth is Saudi Arabians are very up-to-date and they have scientists, artists, and fashion designers. We live in a civilized country and I assure you.. we use cars for transportation!
If there’s one thing you’d like to say to future divaz of arabia, what would it be?
Be yourself and represent where you come from. Be different and unique and let your work set you apart.