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Monday, September 16, 2019

Challenging Perceptions

by Alice Johnson

Beauty is only skin deep: Lamya Gargash’s before and after images challenge questions about self reflection
Beauty is only skin deep: Lamya Gargash’s before and after images challenge questions about self reflection
Beauty is only skin deep: Lamya Gargash’s before and after images challenge questions about self reflection

Emirati artist Lamya Gargash is considered one of the UAE’s most creative minds. You just need to look at her manipulated imagery to understand why. Alice Johnson reports...

Instead of relaxing with her feet up in the third trimester of her pregnancy, Emirati artist Lamya Gargash was eagerly preparing for her first solo photographic exhibition, ‘Through the Looking Glass’ at the Third Line Gallery in Dubai.

“Even when I was pregnant… at nine months I was still on my little ladder taking pictures,” she tells Al Shindagah. Working right through her pregnancy forced her to become “focussed and organised” the artist says as she needed to find a work-life balance before the baby was born.

Two months after giving birth to her first child, Lamya returned to work preparing for the April show. “Even though it has been one exhausting journey trying to balance it all, I still wouldn’t change anything about it. Motherhood is a learning experience and alongside my work it helped me grow immensely,” the Dubai-based artist says.

The old adage ‘beauty is only skin deep’ suggests that physical beauty is superficial and not important to other qualities of human nature - something that Lamya’s exhibition relates to.

Through the Looking Glass,’ named after the Lewis Carroll sequel to Alice in Wonderland challenges questions about self-reflection. It comprises of a series of diptych portraits highlighting societal notions of beauty. One panel of her work shows a portrait of the subject as seen by the world, while another depicts how the model sees his – or herself. Any perceived imperfection – no matter how small – is accentuated and magnified equivalent to the mental image of self-judgement. For example, if the subject, or model thinks their nose is too big, Lamya would add a fake nose with exaggerated proportions to the second image.

“It is a simple idea of self-reflection,” she explains, “One image serves as a subconscious reflection of the other hence the title ‘Through the Looking Glass’: a world of myths, fantasies and disillusionment.”

There are two different realities and perspectives, she says. “What resides in our psyche and minds and what the world sees. We see things that don’t necessarily exist; we are affected by our surroundings, media, peers, globalisation which dictate what perfection looks like and influences our own self-judgement.”

She uses examples, “Oh my nose is huge” or “my arms are saggy”, adding that there is so much negative energy stemming from statements like these.

Lamya admits that the project - which took nearly two years to complete - stems from her own insecurities in some way, but it was only made possible by the photographed subjects sharing their innermost secrets about their own perceived shortcomings.

She says the people who took part in the exhibition are “amazingly courageous.”

She says that her friends and family also played an influential role in the project – and calls her husband “a blessing,” although initially some members of her family didn’t accept her chosen career.

“Initially I think there were a lot of question marks, but with time my family has grown to appreciate what I do and become very supportive. It has always been entertaining for my dad to call me a jewellery designer or architect. He now fully identifies me as an artist.”

The Dubai-based artist used bespoke prosthetics for the show as she is “not a fan” of digital manipulation, which she says make the camera or canvas become “secondary, if not tertiary.”

“The thrill of having to create these pieces allows me as an artist to fully appreciate this art form. I do not think that digital manipulations would express my images truthfully,” she says.

Lamya received a Masters of Arts in Communication Design from the London-based Central Saint Martins in 2007 after graduating from the American University of Sharjah in 2004.

She has since taken part in numerous group exhibitions around the world including in Canada, France, Japan, the Netherlands and Switzerland; and has won a number of awards for her work in photography - and film.

She also participated in the 53rd Venice Biennale as the featured artist of the UAE’s first-ever national pavilion. Her previous work focussed on the notions of the ‘forgotten spaces’ in Emirati society.

Her photographic series ‘Familial’ encompassed the idea that the empty spaces she depicted interpret the fast pace at which the UAE is progressing. Her images show how cultural changes occur in spaces and interiors, which go on to depict a new lifestyle, social etiquettes and norms that affect means of communication and interaction.

After returning to the UAE from the UK, Lamya says she noticed a great number of changes to her native landscape. She says she saw “houses coming down” and “buildings rising”. What influenced her most was the fact that people she knew were embracing the changes more than she was. When she asked people she knew who were moving homes, their responses as to why they were moving were the same: “Because it is old.”

This concept of ageing and people’s perception of it is what intrigued her. She says in Europe a house is not considered old unless it has been standing for hundreds of years; a stark contrast to the thought process in the UAE courtesy of the fast pace of progression it has witnessed in recent years.

“Globalisation alongside the geographical situation does extend the life span of these infrastructures,” she says.

In a world dominated by the quest for perfection and image, Lamya hopes her work will make people stop and think about their own perception of beauty - and how they view themselves. Afterall, it is our own defects that make us unique!

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