UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Decolonizing documentary photography : the Rawiya Collective in Palestine Razek, Sherena


Rawiya is an Arabic word that translates to “she who tells a story” and serves as the title of the first all-women’s photographic collective established in the Middle East. Comprised of former and continuing photojournalists and documentarians, the artists in Rawiya have been photographing the lives of marginalized and subaltern communities throughout the Middle East since and before their establishment in 2009. Of the people and places photographed, the most difficult of subjects, and the most provoking of images, emerge from within the confined borders of Occupied Palestine. Rawiya artists capture both the well documented – although often unexposed – horrors of the Israeli occupation, as well as the quotidian resilience of a systemically oppressed community that prevails despite settler colonial occupation, displacement and disenfranchisement. This thesis considers how the historical and socio-political specificities of a Palestinian perspective become central to an understanding of the implications of the documentary mode and its inception into realism in the nineteenth century. Through a close reading of long durée documentary projects pursued by Rawiya, I will consider how the photograph, in its indexical capacity and documentary ambiguity, is unique in its ability to mitigate the gap between the moment and its retelling, the narrator and the witness. In dialogue with John Tagg’s Burden of Representation I consider how Rawiya collects, creates, and circulates photographic images that entwine a complex interstice of Palestinian stories and voices, traumas and triumphs that are too often unheard and unseen. Using intimate portraiture, monumental landscape, and performative documentary praxis, Rawiya photographers explore a new, decolonizing documentary mode that pictures Palestine in all of its intricacy. Conceptions of territoriality, Arab feminism in the wake of nationalist rhetoric, and a complex history of colonial European and indigenous Arab photography inform their photographic series. Through the lens of the women artists of the collective, the juxtaposition of a Palestinian collective memory and the subsequent creation of a collective Israeli and international amnesia becomes visible.

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