By Nayera Yasser
A world of monochrome and many unspoken words; hidden feelings and women who cannot be what they truly want. This is Marwa Adel’s universe, which always captivates a large audience with its level of truth and simplicity.
Adel is a young Egyptian photographer who is celebrated both locally and internationally. The American University in Cairo (AUC) decided to join the numerous organisations and individuals who embrace Adel’s art, by organising the artist’s first solo exhibition on its campus.
“Marwa Adel is one of the most professional photographers in the world, and she has a statement to make, and it is a very important one regarding women and society,” said Professor Shems Friedlander, director of the AUC’s photographic gallery.
According to Friedlander, Adel creates a new kind of photography that can only exist through the introduction of digital photography.
“Before digital photography, if you wanted to do something like this you would have to do a collage upon a collage and re-photograph several times. Now she does certain manipulations that, I do not want to use the word Photoshop, because everyone uses that word, but Marwa will spend five days on one image, in order to create what she does,” Friedlander said.
Professor Friedlander explained that Adel photographs every aspect, and then puts them all together to tell a story. According to him, it is a very interesting means of photography that she is bringing to the foreground.
Walking into the hall, Adel’s series of photographs, entitled “Journey”, enchants the crowd and fills them with extreme eagerness to know the hidden story.
“This exhibition represents different directions because it combines several collections that were made over a long course of time,” Adel explained. “Each series has a different theme however at the end of the day they all discuss women and their feelings.”
Adel believes in the importance of breaking the stereotypes and embracing the human body as a soul vehicle. As a Middle Eastern woman, she highly understands the kind of restrictions and boundaries women have to deal with on a daily basis.
“I mainly target women rather than men; my main message is that women should be able to express themselves, in other words just talk and speak your mind because even in art women don’t get the needed space to express their feelings” said Adel.
The artist uses complicated digital features in order to maintain women as the central topic of her photographs. “I rarely use men. And even when I do, it is usually just to highlight an idea related to women in the first place,” said Adel.
As an artist who can be categorised as a feminist, Adel does not consider the recent increasing rate of harassment a new phenomenon. According to her, harassment is a frame put to women in order to restrict their lives which is the core of her work, to fight boundaries and cross them.
“I always encourage women to speak out and stand for their rights, to not feel ashamed of her body because in a society like ours the word “body” is quite catastrophic. Therefore all of my work discusses the human body especially women’s,” elaborated Adel.
Adel has received several awards, such as the Golden Prize at the 9th European-Arab festival of photography in Germany in 2012, the best Arab photographer award at the Sharjah photography competition in 2013 and the Jury Award at the Sharjah photography competition in 2014, for her ground breaking technique.
“All of my work is photography in addition to using double exposure for some photographs and Photoshop multiplication for very few ones however Photoshop is not a basic tool I just use it for multiplication, even the colouring and everything else is photography with the use of top view and double exposure,” explained Adel.
Being an artist awarded the country’s highest prizes for the under-30 talent group can make some think that Adel has a strong educational background. Nonetheless, the artist has never studied photography before venturing into the world she now claims as her own.
“I just started by mere chance. I was a newly married bride and I had several problems and just needed to express myself. It was a coincidence I was all alone at home with nothing but a camera. My first series of work was showcased in the UAE, and it got me my first award,” said Adel.
Adel originally studied applied arts, and growing up she has always had artistic interests, but it was never solely about photography. Today, along with her international exhibitions which have been to the US, Europe and the UAE, she works as an assistant lecturer at Helwan University’s Faculty of Applied Arts.
“We do not have academic photography sessions, but I always try to tell my students that it is very important to practice photography, because no one is going to manifest the idea you have but you. I even encourage them to take self portraits because only them can bring out the expression they aim for; a lot of my work is self portrait because it is not always that models express my message precisely,” concluded Adel.