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The Feminine Identities of Héla Ammar


In 2011, a few months after the fall of Ben Ali, at a workshop organized by the Shutter Party in Tunis, I met a group of photographers that included the artist Héla Ammar. She was already exploring two of her favorite themes: the representation of feminine identity in Mediterranean Arab cultures and the idea of confinement.

A few years later, two new series appeared in late December: Hidden Portrait and Transe. Shot in a studio, they are part of an introspective approach which favors a re-appropriation of collective memory while combining those same two themes.

Ammar is not trapped in Orientalist iconography. She takes control of it, appropriates it and changes the way we see. Through the portraits in the series Hidden Portraits, we observe a woman from behind, posing against a typical Tunisian background of zellige tiles and wearing traditional men’s clothes. Each piece of light-colored clothing is different and combined with a hairstyle. These photographs are responses to traditions that  continue to be imposed on women. Here again she highlights the confinement dictated by tradition.

In the second series, Transe, the woman seems freed from the male stranglehold through the traditional dances of the Maghreb. Superimposed against the same backgrounds, we see her floating like a mirage, escaping.

Starting this February, viewers will be able to see the exhibition and photo book Corridors about the Tunisian prison system.

In May 2015, some of her work will be featured in the group exhibition Traces: Fragments d’une Tunisie contemporaine at the MUCEM in Marseille.

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