Trilogy

A series of three projects set in the Arab World, exploring themes of tragedy, origins, globalisation, missed opportunities, mythology, nationalism, and modernity. All three projects are on-going.


I : Iraq/Tigris


To look at any piece of natural monument is to think of time. Its permanence serves to remind us of our brevity. Its size shows our frailty. Like most rivers, the Tigris river pre-dates humanity, and will undoubtedly outlive us. On the banks of the Tigris, which now runs the length of Iraq, were some of the first cities, the first written words, the invention of the wheel. Great civilisations and empires flourished and perished on its banks. 


The Mesopotamians included the Assyrians, Akkadians, Sumerians, Babylonians, Sassanid Persians and Greeks. Their gods, stories and icons reflected their surroundings. The animals of the land became icons of their gods, who in turn created the river. The great floods every year and fertilised the lands became their literature and legend. Along with the regular floods, that occasionally razed entire cities to the ground, the flat plains of Mesopotamia were an easy target for invasion. 


The constant struggle to strive reflected the temperament of Mesopotamian character. The Dibarra Epic, an ancient Mesopotamian poem, recalls the intentional destruction of Mesopotamia by the god of death and plague, Nergal, and reveals the phoenix of Mesopotamian culture; the trust in the destruction of one as necessary to rebuild the new, and the new will be better and greater. The first great epic of literature in the world came from Mesopotamia,The Epic of Gilgamesh, and it is fitting that the story follows Gilgamesh in his quest for immortality.


The three main modern cities of Iraq all lie along the river. In 2014, the city of Mosul fell to ISIS, and was liberated again three years later. The capital, Baghdad, was the focal point of the 2003 invasion. And the southern city of Basra saw eight years of war, along a section of the river called the Shatt al-Arab. The decline of Iraq from 1979 is just another arch in the rise and fall of empires on the Tigris throughout history.


The river is the thread that holds it all together. It is the river that intersects everything that has gone on before, and will continue to do so. The river has witnessed the humans first arriving to the area, Mesopotamians with their advances in technology, the creation of gods and myths, the Arab conquests and Baghdad at the height of power before it was sacked by the Mongol invasion. The creation of folklore and the belief in the jinn (genie), werwolves roaming around cities, people turning into birds. Later Ottomans, the British and the creation of the Republic of Iraq, the growth of the three main cities of Iraq and different wars in each. 


My story follows the narrative of the Epic of Gilgamesh, using scenes found along the river to piece together a vision of a region as seen by the river.


II : Syrians


In 2014, after watching the turbulent Arab Spring, I started a project looking at Syrians, and their fragmented lives and exodus from their land. The project is a mix of documentary photography and collected imagery from the phones of refugees themselves, creating a collaborative element to the project that reflects the growing importance of technology in personal recording of your surroundings during crisis, and also revealing the delicate and unseen moments that a refugee chooses to record for themselves. The project is driven by my journey through the crisis, extracts of interviews with those whom were gracious enough to let me into their lives, and my personal diary.


III : Arab Nationalism


The Six day war in 1967, which saw the Arab nations invade Israel, only to be resolutely and humiliatingly defeated, marked the end of the ambitions of Arab Nationalism. The dream was simple; to unify the Arab world in response to post-colonial divisions, interference and puppet leaders. To end it’s sense of humiliation and subjugation. Decades of building euphoria, dreaming of restoring the region to it’s former glory, crumbled and fell away to Israel’s decisive victory. The path to transnational political unity yielded to state nationalism, and the former dream became a relic of the past. Nations returned to their domestic agenda, and put their efforts to nurturing their own identities within their borders. 


Drawing on German Romanticism, the intellectual foundation of Arab Nationalism, I set out to find the ungraspable spirit that bound the Arab world together in this dream. German Romanticism was a reaction to British and French rationalism, and cared more for the direction that the heart pulled than the reasoning and deductive nature of Rationalism. My project feels for the immortal vibrations of shared cultural origin amongst a land divided by tribe, religion, ethnic group and borders. Visualising the tensions between the failed political ambitions of Arab Nationalism, and the continued cultural brother/sisterhood felt amongst all Arabs. Central to this is the idea that a part of everyone’s identity from across this land comes from a common point in time and space that is long forgotten. These images are taken across the Arab world, from North Africa, to the Levant and the Gulf, an area spread over thousands of miles. But they are presented as geographically anonymous, with no mention of which modern nation it is, to represent the single unified state that was dreamed of many decades ago. 


Using Format