Interview with Estabrak Al-Ansari winner of the Danny Wilson Memorial Award Curators' Choice Prize
(left: Estabrak Al-Ansari, Aisha (meaning one who is alive in Arabic), right: Osama (meaning lion in Arabic), both from the series Omanis Under Water)
Estabrak Al-Ansari was selected by the BPF16 Trainee Curators as the winner of the DWMA Curators' Choice Prize for her series Omanis Under Water, which was exhibited at Socially Engaged Art Salon during Brighton Photo Fringe 2016. Estabrak is a Visual Artist & Film Maker based between London, UK and Muscat, Oman. With a family originally from Iraq, she was born in Iran and raised in London, after having come to the UK with her family as a child refugee. She has studied at Central Saint Martins College London and has a Masters in film & media production. Here we find out about what drew her to photography and the motivation behind creating her series of images which look at Omani society through water.
BPF: Can you tell us a little about your earliest experiences with photography and what drew you to the medium? What images inspired you at that time?
Estabrak Al- Ansari: Coming from a difficult background, not many pictures were available to myself or my family of a former life we once lived.
You see, I was born to a refugee family in Iran who later claimed asylum in London with Iraqi origins/bloodlines and so our refugee status didn't allow for much possessions, including photographs to be kept in our movement from country to country or even from home to home within the UK. It was never really a thought until later in life when friends would talk about their memories or showcase images of their early days when I realised the huge difference in our experiences and the lack of images we held of ours. Most of the time, this acted as some kind of internal disconnect.
I remember growing up to stories my mum and dad would tell us of Iraqi tales, of their childhood and of the freedoms that they once lived, a lot of the times never addressing the atrocities they and we were forced to face.
I don't remember looking at many pictures and still now, when we come across any pictures of times in Iraq or Iran we are all so overwhelmed with inquisitive, nostalgic and sad memory of what once was. Still till today when I feel inquisitive, I look at a family portrait; the last family portrait taken in Iran and one of the very few we have access to and somehow get lost in all it's silence.
I know it was never an artist or photographer who made me want to start to document things but my own emotions and relationship to the concept of the fear of forgetting and dialogues around concepts of existence that really helped push me towards documentation and physical representation of stories..
Because I so desperately wanted to tell ours, to tell mine.. And here I think is where my love for video and still images came, this need to represent and to showcase existence, no matter how hard the dialogue may be.
(Estabrak Al-Ansari, Mufuddel (meaning privileged in Arabic), from the series Omanis Under Water)
As for exhibitions or inspirations, I believe one of the first photographic exhibitions that I went to which overwhelmed me with empowerment and engagement was David Le Chapelle's 2002 exhibition at the Barbican in London. I was around 16 years old then and took my mum and aunt along and loved every bit of it's extravagance. Such rich beautiful imagery with so many mixed messages. At the time I also loved the sexual aspects, although now, not so much. I think it was my age which engaged with that side then. For some reason I also really enjoyed seeing my mum and aunt's responses at the obvious obscenity he brought to the photographic table!
BPF: How has your relationship with photography evolved since then?
EAA: Often, I believe my work is lead by emotions with particular interest lying in creating honest approaches towards silenced socio-political realities usually explored through progressive, multidisciplinary ways of storytelling.
When I was younger I believe I understood photography as a form of documentation as apposed to a form of art. Now I believe I am on the other end of that understanding and use still images to tell stories, not necessarily to document them but to help plant seeds for much needed dialogue around subjects, representation or realities not often explored through such imagery. Sometimes being too literal about things looses a lot of the image's power, and being able to create images to help direct peoples thoughts instead of dictating them to them, is something both very powerful and key in regards to storytelling through a medium such as fine art photography.
For me, images can act as poetry and this is something I have learnt along the years through the incredible amounts of people I have met and diverse cultures I have come to explore.