By Nada Al Mosa
“Now, more than ever, women are making a voice for themselves. It is the dawn of women.” 26-year-old Manal Alzakwani, is a young emerging Omani photographer, who centers women in her photograph series, In Light of the Pandemic. The series is a stunning collection that brings to focus how the women in Manal’s life have experienced the pandemic in the context of Oman and Eid Al Fitr.
In the series of eight photographs, Manal seamlessly weaves together tradition and women’s contemporary experiences, such as in the case of placing blue medical masks on a serving tray, despite there being no guests this Eid. In other images, Suri, Balochi and other traditional attires that are worn during Eid are worn with medical masks, which have become a necessary feature in our new normal and an essential part of our everyday life.
Each image builds on a growing narrative, captioned to cleverly encompass Manal’s vision of the quiet and unseen moments of feminine intimacy in the pandemic, such as in the following photo, in which one sister is seen leaning on the other for support. Both are connected by the mask that they hold together.
The photo series was inspired by Manal’s longing and nostalgia for Eid celebrations as we knew them in a pre-pandemic world, and the young photographer has used photography as a channel through which to express these emotions. She explains that she poured her “mind and heart” into “each and every photo.”
The concept for this series came to her in the middle of the night, and she sprung from bed and grabbed her notebook to write down the idea before it escaped her. Soon after, she organized the photoshoot with her family and friends in her backyard, and was able to select and edit the final images within just one day.
Manal explains that her subjects are usually her sisters and friends, partially due to her access to them as a woman amongst women, but also because of their personal desire to support Manal’s vision. Manal is also drawn to female subjects for her work, because of her innate interest in centering women’s experiences and voices in her photography. With her direction, she informs them of the story that lies behind her staged photographs, and together they find joy in bringing the concepts to life.
Along with the delight she finds in her practice, Manal creates her work with the intention to help her viewers to feel connected to the images, in spite of the pandemic and of cultural differences, by encouraging them to look for meaning in the images. In the photo captioned “Isolation,” Alzakwani surrounds her subjects in plastic film, symbolizing the detached familial social bubbles of the pandemic.
Manal is driven by her own ambition to find her voice in the world, her curiosity in trying new things and in discovering new perspectives on life. She is also equally driven by her family’s encouragement and support, and fondly recalls when her parents gifted her her first camera and film rolls. “I would take pictures of random things and everyone I see in front of me,” she says, and with that exploration, Manal found a love for photography that continues to grow every day.
After having asked her what advice she could provide to other budding artists and photographers in the Gulf, Manal tells me that she encourages them to take more pictures, reach out to photographers they admire for tips and take the time to read, write and draw no matter what. However, she adds that “it is important to take it one day at a time, now more than ever, and to make sure to not give up on your dreams and aspirations.” She shares this advice, knowing that in the past year, she was challenged by an art block due to the changes caused by the pandemic in her life. In order to combat this block, she took small steps to foster art-making for herself, by taking the time to read and to draw.
Although there can be no gatherings or ursia (a traditional dish that is served in Oman on the first day of Eid), Manal is grateful for the good health of her loved ones, and wishes everyone a safe and happy Eid Al Fitr.
In the future, Manal intends to continue developing her art by studying photography and graphic design, so as to one day have a large body of work, personal exhibitions and to make a living from her practice. While she has not announced any further future projects centered around women’s experiences with the pandemic and beyond it, she plans to continue her search for her voice and to follow the “sparks” of emotion and ambition that fulfill her work, and to make a name for herself in the new dawn of women.
To find out more about Manal Alzakwani’s photography, visit her page on Instagram.
Nada Al Mosa is an Abu Dhabi based Palestinian artist, writer and a fresh graduate of Literature and Creative Writing from New York University Abu Dhabi. Nada dabbles in digital illustration, collage and mixed media, but is currently a practicing documentary poet and an intern at Sekka.
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