Arts & Culture

“I would like to communicate a refusal to be treated as property”

Inside this photographer's new photography series, "Out of her Father's House."


By Sekka

23-year-old Nagham Khader is a Jordanian photographer of Palestinian origin. Image: Courtesy of Nagham Khader.

“To my sister,

I apologize to you on behalf of the mother of the groom, for having asked, once she saw you, ‘Is that how you dress?’ She spoke of her son for about an hour, and hardly talked to you.

I apologize to you on her behalf, for having whispered in my grandmother’s ear, ‘You didn’t tell me her sister is whiter than her.’ She was going to examine your hair because you wear the hijab, because what she considers to be bad hair would decrease your value in her eyes… Did you know that when she asked, jokingly, for coffee to be prepared, that that meant, ‘We don’t like the bride on offer’? I didn’t know that.

And so, I apologize to you on behalf of the mother of the groom. I also dedicate this series to you, and to every woman who’s been through what you’ve been through, and refused to be treated like property, to be examined and bought and sold.”

This is how Nagham Khader, a young Jordanian photographer with Palestinian origins introduced and described her newest photography series, Out of Her Father’s House, when she recently shared it on her Instagram account. The series, the title of which is derived from a traditional Arabic wedding procession (zaffah) song, is composed of eight photographs that narrate the story of a woman as she goes through the stages of a traditional marriage, which usually begins when a suitor’s mother and female relatives makes a home visit to meet the prospective bride and her family, and, if a match is made, concludes with a wedding ceremony that jubilantly celebrates the marriage. Only in Nagham’s final photographs, the bride ends up being unhappy in her own wedding as she is surrounded by two women from the groom’s side who look at her with resentment and disappointment, seemingly unhappy with the choice of wife.

Out of Her Father’s House by Nagham Khader. Images: Courtesy of Nagham Khader.

The series, as the description above indicates, was inspired by the 23-year-old designer and visual communicator’s own personal experience, when she sat through a traditional pre-engagement visit in which she felt her sister was being inspected “like property,” and degraded by a suitor’s female relatives. “I was shaken by the amount of inappropriate comments and questions the groom’s mother threw at my sister. And it dawned on me that such bygone traditions have instilled in us – women and girls – a generational silence in the face of such insults and injuries,” Nagham tells us. “And so, I decided to offer an apology to my sister – as well as any woman who has gone through the same experience – through visuals and words that contradict the prejudices and preconceived notions of the groom’s mother. It’s a slightly exaggerated form of visual wish-making.”

The preparations for the photoshoot took Nagham approximately two months, during which, “I had to contact a tailor, comb through endless rows of clothes in second hand markets and contact a casting director to find a model,” she describes. “I also found a house in Jabal Jofeh in Amman, which needed a not insignificant amount of interior design preparation – this was done with the help of two of my friends, Ruba and Qais, whose support has been of great value for this project.”

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Despite the challenges she faced, Nagham is pleased with the end result, and hopes that her narrative photography will have some impact given her firm belief in photography’s power to change reality. “Bringing real stories to light is effective in changing the minds of others, and exposing them to experiences they otherwise wouldn’t have thought or even dreamt of. Visual storytelling has the power to impact. And I want to be there for women who go through situations similar to the ones I show and communicate,” says Nagham, who discovered her passion for narrative photography when she was just 13 years old, and has been self-taught ever since . “We, women of the Middle East, are so used to harmful and inappropriate social habits and mannerisms. I would like to communicate a refusal to be treated as property or to be put under the microscope. ”

“We – Arab women – have always been taught not to show ourselves in pictures, for a variety of reasons – the envious and evil eyes of others chief among them. But it’s time for us to show our faces and celebrate our existence and survival,” she adds.

Nagham Khader with her grandmother, whom she enjoys a close relationship with. Image: Courtesy of Nagham Khader.

Out of Her Father’s House marks the first time that Nagham has depicted women other than herself and her grandmother, whom she has a close relationship with, in her photography. “The main subject of a lot of my photographs is my grandmother. We share a unique relationship; we talk for hours on end on the kitchen table. She is a beacon of warmth and understanding, and has been a great encouragement to me since childhood,” she warmly says. “However, recently, I started to widen my creative horizon by talking to other women, listening to their stories and trying to communicate the process visually.”

And it seems that this will not be the last time that Nagham does so. Alongside opening her own studio where photographers and designers can be comfortable sharing their ideas and visions together, Nagham, “would like to keep exploring the interior lives of women and marginalized communities, and the situations they face in their daily lives” in her future photographic works.

To find out more about Nagham Khader, visit her page on Instagram.

The views of the authors and writers who contribute to Sekka, and the views of the interviewees who are featured in Sekka, do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Sekka, its parent company, its owners, employees and affiliates.