Growing up in Saudi Arabia in the ‘80s meant the era of the black marker, a time when the censorship of images took on a life of its own. Artist and photographer Jowhara AlSaud examines the notion of censorship and its effect on visual communication in her latest series “Out of Line”.

Explaining her inspiration, AlSaud says, “While there is a lack of consistency from region to region, overall, images are highly scrutinized and controlled. Some superficial examples of this would be skirts lengthened and sleeves crudely added with black markers in magazines or blurred out faces on billboards. I tried to apply the language of the censors to my personal photographs. I began making line drawings, omitting faces and skin. Keeping only the essentials preserved the anonymity of my subjects. This allowed me to circumvent, and comment on, some of the cultural taboos associated with photography. Namely the stigma attached to bringing the “personal portrait”, commonly reserved for the private domestic space, into a public sphere. It became a game of how much can you tell with how little. When reduced to sketches, the images achieved enough distance from the original photographs that neither subjects nor censors could find them objectionable. For me, they became autonomous, relatable, pared down narratives.”

Born and raised in Saudi Arabia, Jowhara studied film theory at Wellesley College and went on to receive her Master of Fine Arts in 2004 from the School of The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. She was runner-up for the 2008 Aperture Foundation Portfolio Prize and Magenta Foundation’s Flash Forward 2010: Emerging Photographers finalist and The International Photography Awards 2010 finalist. She has exhibited her work internationally in-group and solo shows, most recently at the Duolun Museum of Modern Art in Shanghai, China, The Sultan Gallery, Kuwait and Witzenhausen Gallery, New York. She has also exhibited at international art fairs in New York, Miami, Chicago, Palm Beach, Paris, Mexico, Dubai and Basel, Switzerland. Her work is part of the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, as well as private collections across Europe, the US and the Middle East.

“I’ve always been interested in how photography functions, and I try to undermine any documentary authority it may possess as a medium. 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. By etching these drawings back into film and printing them in a traditional darkroom, I’m trying to point out how malleable it is as a medium, even before digital manipulation became soadvanced and accessible. With these interventions emerges a highly coded and self-reflexive language. 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.”

For her first solo show in Saudi Arabia, AlSaud chose Athr Gallery in Jeddah to present some of her latest works from her series “Out of Line”, a body of work that invites the viewer to contribute and take part in completing the images presented, ultimately allowing for an atmosphere of inquiry and questioning. In this latest series, photographs of intimate social images of family and friends are manually manipulated through fastidious etchings on negative, reveal figures depleted of all facial features. Yet, in spite of the absence of identifiable features, the images appear intimate and inviting, even charming and carefree, while still demonstrating the complex cultural constraints that govern the depiction of people in Saudi Arabia.The result is a succession of collective family portraits of the viewer at large, achieved through a process of identification and appropriation. So much is revealed by what is concealed.