From London to Berlin, an Iraqi photographer’s exhibition in the United Arab Emirates shines a light on unity during the pandemic
DUBAI: While in many ways the trials and tribulations of the coronavirus pandemic years are mostly in the past, there is no denying the impact the health crisis has had on the world.
Artists who worked during periods of confinement and restriction now present creations often charged with emotion, grief and solidarity.
One such artist is Yamam Nabeel, a London-based Iraqi writer and photographer, who is showing his first exhibition in the region at ICD Brookfield Place, Dubai.
Titled “Waiting for Time/Intersecting Realities” and running through June 30, it features a series of 29 photographic portraits that tell the pandemic stories of more than 60 people from all walks of life and from diverse countries and cultures. The images depict the shared experience of navigating hardships, joys and heartaches during the virus outbreak.
Nabeel began creating his work in the English capital during the first lockdown in May and June 2020. With his 1960s Hasselblad and Mamiya 7 medium format cameras, he traveled from London to Berlin and then Dubai between 2020 and 2022, recording and interviewing people, including playwrights, comedians, hospital workers, journalists and lawyers.
Through his photos, Nabeel has captured moments of expectation, reflection and joy, all photographed outdoors in a location chosen by the subject. The images highlight commonalities and disparities shared between individuals over the period.
He told Arab News, “My goal was to connect people through a difficult shared experience that the current generation has never had.
“It was a time filled with fear, uncertainty and loneliness. We were all living the same reality, locked in our immediate surroundings, waiting for something no one could predict. I wanted to collect individual stories, weave them together into an interconnected and collective human history.
Through the works on display, Nabeel wondered if humans would retain the unity gained through tragedy or if old ways of division would return.
He said: “As an Iraqi and as an Arab, the word unity resonates a lot with me. My NGO was called FC Unity and used the global power of football to bring people together. Having this exhibition in Dubai, United Arab Emirates pays homage to this concept.
“Unity is the foundation of this country. Everything I’ve done in my life has been about bringing people together. In times of fear and trauma as well as in times of security and stability,” he added, referring to his non-profit organization which aims to provide a platform for development and education through football.
Dubai was one of the last cities he visited before the pandemic, in January, and it was the last place he shot, returning in December just as the omicron variant of COVID-19 kicked in. apparition, challenging the world with more uncertainty.
“I decided it was time to include Dubai and tweak the project slightly to show three different world cities at three different times during the pandemic.
“As we were on the verge of returning to so-called normality, I decided to show Dubai on color film, while showing London and Berlin on black and white film. All photographs were taken as images medium-format analog,” he said.
Born in Baghdad, the Iraqi capital, Nabeel grew up in Hungary then moved to London where he has lived since 1992. He is the son of the exiled poet Nabeel Yasin. His family left Iraq in 1980, when he was four years old. They then lived in France, Lebanon and the former East Germany, before settling in Hungary in 1981.
“My mother tongue is Arabic, my first language is Hungarian and the language in which I write and create is English, but my heart and my soul remain Iraqi forever,” he added.
Through her photographic portraits, Nabeel translated a global crisis into the more intimate, individual and personal stories of each sitter. He is now planning a project in Iraq.
He said: “My aim is to present European audiences with a new narrative about our wonderfully diverse and interesting culture and heritage.
“Waiting for Time/Intersecting Realities” marks his eighth solo exhibition.