There is no one in sight. The place looks like some highway. There are trees on either side of the road but they appear lifeless, as if marred by the desert heat. In this ambience you see a woman trapped in a box. You can’t see her face. But you can see how easily she has folded her limbs to fit in a box. She is looking down. Many such photographs where a woman is seen slipped in a box at unfamiliar locations are on display at an ongoing show by International Women Photographers Award (IWPA) in Delhi’s Alliance Francaise.

These images are by Farah Salem, who is also the winner this year. In the series titled Cornered, Salem has combined the act of performance with photography. The theme for this year’s edition was “Borders” and Salem is looking at the self-constructed boundaries by people. She says, “This art work explores the experience of being in the middle of a beautiful nowhere, yet remaining trapped in a box that has been created by either society or ourselves. It explores the idea of how the whole of existence is truly floating in a beautiful nowhere, an infinite space. But the human mind creates limitations that end up manifesting into fears restricting one to break free and simply be.”

For this series, Salam was declared the winner and is awarded a solo show in Alliance Francaise, Dubai in 2018. IWPA is a platform that promotes photography by women photographers from all over the world. It encourages diversity and looks to showcase the different photography approaches by women photographers to varied audience. “I created this organisation in 2001 with the sole aim to give a chance to women photographers who are merely 20% of the lot,” says Severine Blanchet Bourret, president, IWPA.

This year the organisers received over 750 applications from 84 countries. “The process of selecting finalists is a difficult one. Salem’s work was rated on a very high note. She received the top points by all the jury members. Her ideation and aesthetics stands out,” says Bourret. The 10 finalists apart from Salem are Ana Alexandrescu, Anne Ackermann, Cécile Smetana Baudier, Florencia Trincheri, Haruhi Fujii, Marcela Barrios-Hernandez, Neus Solà, Ranita Roy, Soheila Sanamno and Sumy Sadurni.

22-year-old Indian photographer Ranita Roy is also among the finalists. In her series, she has represented the positivity reflected by Indian women despite difficult circumstances. Here her subject is Bhanumati Das, Roy’s maternal grandmother.

“My grandmother is very close to me since childhood. I feel very inspired whenever I see her. I wonder how she remains happy just with little things. In the old age you are alone but you also have to take care of yourself and the family. Despite the struggles one has to face during this period one has to remain positive to sustain a feeling of well-being. My grandmother reflects this positivity. I wanted to bring forth this aspect of her in my project.  How to lead a positive life on that is my story,” says Roy.

Cornered, by Farah Salem.

However Roy wants to add another narrative to the story.  She says, “The project is not over yet. My next step is to include the lives of other Indian women along with my grandmother. Through my photographs I want to help women to live a good life despite the odds. I want to convey to the women that they should not consider themselves a victim, thoughts like these should be kept at bay. One should go forward with life. I am also doing a project on women and child education.”

Arantza Aramburu-Hamel is in the organising committee for IWPA. She talks about the importance of this award. “I have been on the committee for the last year, and I can say that this award has a key role as it encourages women photographers from all over the world to go and show what they’re doing, and this sets the example for many potential photographers, or for photographers who are shy or reluctant to show their work for many reasons (personal, cultural and so on.) Having more women photographers is essential, as otherwise is mostly male photographers who transmit, unconsciously, their view of the world. Around 85% of the photos that we see every day it in newspapers, magazines, internet, art galleries and so on are taken by men.  We want to change this,” says Hamel.

Where are my Borders, by Haruhi Fujii.

Iranian photographer Soheila Sanamno has brought forward the plight of Iranian women who underwent the heinous act of rape. The victim has no say in the society and has to marry an old man or a widower.  She says, “Through my images I will further document the cultural and social fabric of a village which is many centuries old. I would also focus on the village’s tribal and ethnic affiliations. Photography can be an effective tool to challenge the social stigma and help unleash reality to the world. I hope my work will help the women to find a breathing space and to start policy discussions about this social issue. I believe that through telling these stories, we can empower those who feel silenced.”

The exhibition is on view till 11 June at Delhi’s Alliance Francaise


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