10 Q’s for Yumna Al Arashi
NYC-based freelance photographer, Yumna Al Arashi was featured in Milk Gallery’s Milk Underground in Autumn 2011, a bi-annual group show of works by the industry’s most visionary and provocative emerging photographers put on as part of Milk’s commitment to nurture the next generation of talent. Growing up in Washington D.C. and graduating from The New School, Yumna majored in International Politics with a focus on the Middle East, which has given her photography a unique and eye-capturing flair. Through her elegant and striking pieces of women and Middle Eastern landscapes, at the young age of 26, Yumna has already worked with big names such as National Geographic Abu Dhabi, Warner-Bros, Samsung, T-Mobile, Steve Madden, Teva Originals, Complex Magazine, We Transfer, and VSCO.
The Milk Store is excited to start selling Yumna’s most recent work online and to introduce her new pieces, we’ve asked her a few questions for Milk Made:
1. How did growing up in Washington D.C. influence your style? Do you think your Westernized upbringing encouraged you to venture back to your roots?
I believe growing up in DC influenced my interests more so than my style. I lived in a very political environment and therefore became conditioned to learning more about where I’m from – hence studying International Politics. DC and the DMV area also has incredible landscapes that most don’t really know about unless they’re from there – which gave me an appreciation for nature at a young age.
2. What has sparked your desire to shoot in the Middle East? Have your studies in International Politics and the Middle East influenced what you choose to photograph?
Shooting in the Middle East was my way of learning and understanding the places that were different from where I lived and simultaneously teaching others about it as well. I believe most of my followers who have been around for years have a different type of appreciation for places like Yemen because they had a chance to see it through my eyes. The media portrays these places on a very biased surface level. You don’t learn about the culture or the people – just war, propaganda and destruction.
3. Do you consider the media worldwide has portrayed Middle Eastern culture differently since 9/11?
Absolutely. I think one would have to be completely disconnected from the world to not have noticed that already. Middle Eastern culture is vibrant and beautiful, and yet it is shamed and media creates propaganda to fuel political agendas.
4.Your photographs portray elegant and powerful women, how has being a woman yourself stimulated your work which often deals with canons of beauty and taboos in Middle Eastern society?
I try my best to fight for the idea that all types of women have strength and power no matter what they choose to believe or how they choose to dress themselves. My series of photos of women in Yemen was how I chose to portray this. I disagree with the notion that a woman is weak because she chooses to cover herself and at the same time I disagree with the notion that a woman is weak because she chooses not to. Some of the strongest women I know are veiled, and I respect them tremendously. I’m not veiled and I still find power in my voice and art, veiled friends of mine respect me just the same. Western ideals shouldn’t be inflicted upon the entire world as the “right”. With that said, I also disagree with submitting to any patriarchal system’s beliefs – and this applies to both the West and the East, with every aspect of a woman’s life – not just her clothing.
5. What does it mean to you as a woman and photographer to be considered an up and coming journalist by Forbes Magazine in their article titled “The Next Edward R. Murrow Is a Woman”?
It’s an honor! I love being a woman and doing what I do. I believe journalism comes in all shapes and colors and sharing my art from both sides of my life is important work.
6. You have experimented with a wide variety of photographic styles—from press images for Theophilus London, commercial work for Steve Madden, to your breathtaking landscape pieces for National Geographic Abu Dhabi. How did these projects develop? Do you have a preference?
Of course, if I could shoot travel and women all day long and survive, I would! But at the end of the day I have to feed myself so commercial work is necessary. I think it’s really fun to transform myself into a technical photographer and business woman. It’s just one part of what I do. I meet talented people all over the world and love collaborating. I love creating new concepts and stories and so long as I keep doing that I’ll always be happy with my career.
7. Tell us more about your series “Silence of the Sirens” and your interpretation of Franz Kafka’s short story titled the same.
This series came to fruition at two different times in my life. I stumbled upon Franz Kafka’s story a few years ago and it sparked something in me that hit really hard. I really loved his interpretation of the Ulysses myth, it gives it a different take. This triggered feelings about love, women, power, and manipulation that were prevalent in my life during those times.
8. How was your experience photographing the incredibly beautiful and powerful women of ALDA?
Incredible!! I adore all of those powerful women and we’ve stayed close ever since. I’m so happy to live in a world where all kinds of women rule and our ideals of what is beautiful are changing. What a special time we live in.
9. You have over 20 thousand followers on Instagram. What role does social media play in promoting your work? How do you use it as a creative platform?
Instagram is awesome! I’ve met some really amazing people through it and I love having such a fun outlet to share my life in another form. Using it as a tool to promote my work is just part of being a creative in this day and age which is fine with me. I also still share a little personal part of my life through it which I believe is important to see and relate to.
10. What projects are you currently working on? In what direction would you like to take your work in the future? What are you hoping to accomplish in your upcoming projects?
I’m working on my VSCO #ArtistInitiative right now which has been such a trip! Exhausting, creative, challenging, heartbreaking, all in the best way. And all to fulfill a dream of sharing something really important with others. So that’s incredible. I also have a few other projects that are under wraps at the moment! Follow me to see them unfold. I truly would love to keep working on human rights, and simultaneously work on my personal art. Commercial work actually keeps me on my feet as well, which is awesome, and I’m so lucky to say I enjoy it.
You can purchase Yumna Al Arashi’s work here.
Read more of the exclusive interviews here.