From London to Berlin, Iraqi photographer’s UAE show highlights unity during pandemic
DUBAI: While in many ways the trials and tribulations of the coronavirus pandemic years are mostly in the past, there is no denying the impact the health crisis has had on the world.
Artists who worked during the lockdown and restriction periods are now showcasing creations often charged with emotion, grief, and solidarity.
One such artist is London-based Yamam Nabeel, an Iraqi writer and photographer, who is staging his first exhibition in the region at ICD Brookfield Place, in Dubai.
Titled “Waiting for Time/Intersecting Realities” and running until June 30, it presents a series of 29 photographic portraits that narrate the pandemic stories of more than 60 people from all walks of life, and a range of countries and cultures. The images depict the shared experience of navigating the hardships, joys, and grief over the course of the virus outbreak.
Nabeel began creating his work in the English capital during the first lockdown in May and June of 2020. With his 1960s medium‐format Hasselblad and Mamiya 7 cameras, he travelled from London to Berlin and then to Dubai between 2020 and 2022, recording and interviewing people including playwrights, comedians, hospital workers, journalists, and lawyers.
Through his photos, Nabeel has caught moments of waiting, reflection, and joy all shot outdoors in a place of the subject’s choosing. The pictures highlight the shared commonalities and disparities between individuals during the period.
He told Arabian Weekly: “My aim was to connect people during a difficult shared experience that the current generation have never experienced.
“It was a time filled with fear, uncertainty, and solitude. We all lived the same reality, locked in our immediate surroundings, waiting for something no one could predict. I wanted to collect individual stories, to weave them together into an interconnected and collective human story.”
Through the works on display, Nabeel has questioned whether humans will hold onto the unity garnered through tragedy or if previous divisive ways will return.
He said: “As an Iraqi and as an Arab, the word unity resonates greatly with me. My NGO was called FC Unity and used the global power of football to bring people together. Having this exhibition in Dubai, in the UAE, pays homage to that concept.
“Unity is the foundation of this country. Everything I have done in my life was about bringing people together. In times of fear and trauma as well as in times of safety and stability,” he added, in reference to his not-for-profit organization that aims to provide a platform for development and education through football.
Dubai was one of the last cities he visited before the pandemic, in January, and it was the last place he shot in, returning in December just as the omicron variant of COVID-19 reared its head, challenging the world with more uncertainty.
“I decided that it was time to include Dubai and slightly alter the project to show three different global cities at three various times of the pandemic.
“As we were within touching distance of returning to so-called normality, I decided to show Dubai on color film, while showing London and Berlin on black-and-white film. All photographs were taken as medium format, analogue images,” he said.
Born in the Iraqi capital Baghdad, Nabeel was raised in Hungary and later moved to London where he has been living since 1992. He is the son of exiled poet Nabeel Yasin. His family left Iraq in 1980, when he was four years old. They then lived in France, Lebanon, and the former East Germany, before settling in Hungary in 1981.
“My mother tongue is Arabic, my first language is Hungarian, and the language I write and create in is English, but my heart and soul forever remain Iraqi,” he added.
Through his photographic portraits, Nabeel has translated a global crisis into more intimate, individual, and personal stories of each sitter. He is now planning a project in Iraq.
He said: “My aim is to present a new narrative about our wonderfully diverse and interesting culture and heritage to European audiences.”
“Waiting for Time/Intersecting Realities” marks his eighth solo show.