Jowhara AlSaud (1978) presents viewers with a commentary on social and aesthetic conventions. She tackles the issue of censorship in her native Saudi Arabia and its effects on visual communication. Some examples of censorship include blurred out faces on billboards or the use of black markers in magazines to lengthen skirts and crudely add sleeves. The artist applies the tactics and mark-making of the censors to her personal photographs through line drawings, omitting faces and skin.

By retaining only the essentials, she preserves the anonymity of her subjects, allowing the artist to circumvent and therefore address cultural taboos associated with photography. Foremost among these is the stigma attached to bringing the personal portrait, commonly reserved for the private domestic space, into a public sphere. When reduced to sketches, the images achieve enough distance from the original photographs that neither subjects nor censors would find them objectionable. They became autonomous, relatable, pared down narratives. “The only versions of our lives suitable for public consumption are barely recognizable.” (Jowhara AlSaud)

A key element in AlSaud’s work is the exploration of the medium of photography. She attempts to undermine any documentary authority it may possess by highlighting its malleability, even without the use of digital manipulation. The artist etches drawings onto negatives and prints them in a traditional darkroom. After the initial shot, the artist uses an engraver to etch the outlines of figures with minimal details onto the emulsion of another photograph. The resulting effect harks back to modernist woodcuts.

“I've always felt that a photograph functions more like a memory, in that it's a singular perspective of a split second in time, entirely subjective and hence impressionable. What also interests me is that the information omitted (faces, skin and emulsion) creates an image of its own, as do the censors to our cultural landscape.”

Jowhara AlSaud (1978) holds a BA in Film Theory from Wellesley College (Massachusetts, USA) and an MFA in Fine Arts from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts/Tufts University (Massachusetts, USA). In 2010, she was a finalist for both The International Photography Awards and the Magenta Foundation’s Flash Forward 2010: Emerging Photographers. In 2008, she was a runner-up for the 2008 Aperture Foundation Portfolio Prize. Her work has been exhibited internationally, most recently at the Duolun Museum of Modern Art in Shanghai, China. Her work is part of permanent public collections, including the Victoria and Albert Museum (London) and the Greenbox Museum (Amsterdam), as well as private collections across Europe, the US and the Middle East. AlSaud lives and works between Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and New York, USA.