Without Boundary: Seventeen Ways of Looking

Jananne Al-Ani
(b. 1966 in Kirkuk, Iraq, lives and works in London)
Untitled I and II
1996

Jananne Al-Ani. Untitled I and II. 1996

(b. 1966 in Kirkuk, Iraq, lives and works in London) Two gelatin silver prints. Each: 47 1/4 x 70 7/8" (120 x 180 cm). Courtesy the artist and Union, London. © Jananne Al-Ani. Photograph: courtesy Union, London Audio courtesy of Acoustiguide

JANANNE AL-ANI: I was born in 1966, in Kirkuk, in the north of Iraq, to an Iraqi father and a British/Irish mother. And I lived there till I was about 13.

In each of the photographs there are five women. It's actually the same five women in various stages of veiling. They're actually looking back at themselves. The intention is for you as the viewer to be interrupting something that's almost going on in private between these women and their own reflection. So you're actually disrupting a very private space.

I was very interested in their gaze being almost confrontational, so they're staring quite coldly out of the photographs. That was to do with trying to break down this idea of the female subject somehow attempting some kind of an intimate relationship with the viewer.

I wanted to disrupt the normal cliché of the veil being something that's either oppressive or subjugates women, and try to think about it as something that could be quite powerful.

I think since women started becoming suicide bombers, the image of the veiled woman has now actually become a dangerous image. This piece of cloth, it's meaning fluctuates so easily depending on what historic moment we're talking about, and what location, what culture.

I'm very interested in the idea of creating fiction in photography, and the way in which the studio portrait is so obviously artificial. What I wanted to make very clear was that this was a theatrical performance. The top half of the photograph is the kind of formal performance of the veil appearing and disappearing, and then the bottom half is undermining that by exposing the artificiality of the performance.

The women in the photographs are myself, my three sisters, my mother. And I very often work with this family group. We always occupy the same position, and we always appear in order of age. I’m the third child. People think the work is about something that's kind of personal, and about our relationships. It's pretending to be about that.

A lot of my work is about trying to undermine the idea of truth and reality, and the sort of absoluteness of history. So it's about playing about this idea of fact and fiction.

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