The Imaginarium Postcard Project was created and set up by artist, writer and art historian Salma Ahmad Caller in 2018 to investigate the archive of colonial 19th century images of women on postcards from the Middle East and North Africa whilst also exploring her mixed Egyptian and British identity. The project has grown into a collective of artists and researchers working together to decolonise the colonial lens who are researching their own personal family histories across ‘east’ and ‘west’ and making connections and relationships to the Postcard Women from these regions.
As a group they aim to create cross-cultural dialogue and to combat misinformation and racial stereotyping that such images perpetuate, by bringing cultural heritage and personal stories to the fore.
Six members of the collective – living with cultural connections and cross-cultural dualities resulting from colonial and political aftermaths from Egypt/UK, Iran/UK, Libya/US, Tunisia/France, Spain/Morocco, and Algeria/UK/France – Salma Ahmad Caller, Afsoon, Hala Ghellali, Alia Derouiche Cherif, CritTeam duo Eugenia Lopez Reus & Miguel Jaime and Hamida Zourgui – will be showing work in a multi-media exhibition incorporating photography, projection, sound, installation, painting, collage, heritage material, colonial postcards and community responses at the Camden Image Gallery from September 22nd – October 4th 2022.
The exhibition will present a multiplicity of possible interpretations in relation to the Postcard Women’s images, reclaiming them from colonial, patriarchal and Orientalist imaginariums, and creating new imaginariums to generate potential and unexplored histories and to shine light on hidden meanings and stories obscured by the colonial lens.
The Postcard Women’s bodies are ‘captured’ frozen in an unchanging mediated medium where they have been misrepresented, mislabelled and objectified. Their bodies shown having to hold positions they would never have held, clutching water vessels or other cultural objects cast as Orientalist and colonial ‘props’, and forced to gaze provocatively or mysteriously, or be shown naked. Their body adornments – jewellery, textiles, patterns, body markings – were used to display the women as ‘exotic’ ‘erotic’ ‘primitive’ and ‘tribal’ without contextualisation or understanding, brutishly framed to fit within racial hierarchies created to serve European colonial aspirations.
These water vessels, jewels and clothes all carry deeply within them cultural histories of women, specific knowledges and ways of being that would have been handed down to each woman from her female ancestors. Vessels of identity and selfhood. In this exhibition each artist will be reframing these ‘props’ as living cultural heritage embedded in personal and political spaces women still occupy and deal with today.
This exhibition is supported by Arts Council England and is in partnership with The Mixed Museum, The Arab British Centre and the Zay Initiative.