• Abbas ©

Nazar - Western eyes

In the former Manege, a location converted by Noorderlicht for exhibition space, the Arab world is seen through the eyes of non-Arab, mostly Western photographers. In diverse manners they shed light on its politics, culture, religion and daily life. Although they generally have lived in the area for long periods, as Westerners they remain outsiders in a region that is frequently characterised as being difficult to penetrate. Cultural differences are a barrier, but at the same time grant them a freedom which would be difficult for Arab photographers to conceive. From their deep personal engagement these photographers too offer an image of the world behind the news.

Few regions are so much in the news as the Arab world. Western journalism focuses massively on this region, which is often identified with war, conflict and terror. The invasion of Iraq, Islamic fundamentalism, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: these define the picture of a region that covers roughly twice the area of Europe.

But how correct is that picture? The Dutch photographer Annette den Ouden went to investigate and found an Islamic world that is absolutely not as threatening as is often suggested in the West. Other photographers sought the little stories behind the headlines. Laura Junka asked herself what the Palestinians do in their free time. Magnum photographer Abbas documented the disappearance of Saddam Hussein from the Iraqi street scene.

Behind headlines and the breaking news lies everyday life. After a civil war of fifteen years ended, the Lebanese capital Beirut has grown from a ruin into a metropolis of Western allure. How does it feel to have to look every day at a wall that Israel has constructed on Palestinian territory? What is it like to be an American soldier on patrol in the most dangerous part of Iraq?

Predominantly Western photographers - some with Arab roots - like Paul Blackmore, Jeroen Kramer and Gaston Zvi Ickowicz give answers to these questions. Where Western media stick to the surface, they dig under it. The same compulsion to seek the nuance is found in photographers like Alison Bradley, Denis Dailleux and Zbigniew Kosc. With their classic images they seem to follow in the footsteps of historic photographers such as Lehnert & Landrock, but they have an eye for the beauty and cultural wealth of the Arab world.