From liberating the female form to empowering Yemeni women, Yumna Al-Arashi delivers thought-provoking and compelling imagery underscored by a deeper socio-political message. As part of ASOS supports talents, the New York-based photographer set up two exhibitions in LA and New York, showcasing the Renaissance-esque, golden embraces of Shedding Skin.
Set in a communal bathhouse in Beirut, commonly known as a hammam, this series of intimate depictions portrays women baring and bathing themselves. Al-Arashi’s glimpses into the sacred places of Arab communities help assume a space for these women and create an alternative narrative to the otherwise inherently oppressive Western tale. Glamcult sat down with the photographer, who also holds a degree in International Politics, talking about revealing a sacred space and the manner in which she manages to simply flag how it really is.
As a revealing body of work, what is the message of Shedding Skin?
My work seeks to liberate the female body in general, not just the Arabic one. This body of work is an ode to the spaces in which women can exist together without the worries of the outside world, which constantly weigh down on them. It’s about the support women can give one another in dark times. It’s about that special bond between women.
Shedding Skin feels very intimate. What power resides in baring all?
The power to see ourselves as humans—and strictly as humans. No clothing, no make-up; just our bodies and ourselves.
Stylistically the photographs are very dreamy, warm and welcoming. Was this a conscious decision?
Yes, absolutely. It’s a romantic ode, and we wanted to create an environment that felt modern but still classical.
Why were you drawn to photography and how has the medium helped you in your cause?
We live in an image-based society. Our lives revolve around imagery. If you want to spread a message easily and to a large group of people, it makes the most sense to make beautiful things.
Hammams are regarded as important cultural spaces. Were you at any point nervous initiating a project like this one?
Not nervous. Just concerned for the safety of everyone involved, including the owners, the subjects, and my crew. I try to keep anonymity when I can and when it’s needed, whether I’m shooting in a hammam or on the street.
Have you received any backlash for opening up an otherwise closed-off space?
Sometimes, but mostly it engages conversation. That’s also what’s most important to me. I try my best to ignore negative commentary, but often it’s unavoidable.
You are part of the ASOS Supports Talent program, which sponsors up-and-coming artists whose work has an aspect of social justice to it. What form of social justice are you fighting for and how can ASOS help in this fight?
I’m fighting to open our views of what the woman is, what the Arab woman is, what the Muslim woman is. I’m fighting to defend all three. It’s incredibly powerful for such a large corporation to stand alongside me in that fight.