Artist shows true colours of Oman
Portraits aim to overturn misconceptions
A Highbury artist is attempting to shed light on a little-known corner of the world with her unique portraits of Omani Women. Helen Couchman said the idea came to her after travelling to Oman for work four years ago. “I wanted to understand more about what we mean when we refer to the Middle East,” she said. “Its just so general and vague.”
It was while she was on assignment in the desert that she was first inspired; ” I was at the edge of what is known as The Empty Quarter when I met three women who appeared over the dunes in the middle of nowhere. The women – including a mother and her three daughters – took a shine to her and invited her to their farm. “I was struck by how brightly and confidently dresses the four women were,” Ms Couchman told the Gazette. “I began thinking about my expectations of them being more conservatively dressed.”
When she returned to the UK she searched through archives of Omani Women but found only portraits that were anthropological or of eroticised Persian beauty. Inspired by her own experiences she returned to the country to start her own project. Of course convincing strangers to pose for photos wasn’t easy. “I realised it might be quite a difficult question for people to consider so I approached people in the street rather than at their homes which I don’t think would have been very polite,” Ms Couchman said. Most families had at least on member who spoke English or else would invite a friend over who could. “I would ask them three questions,” she said. “Would they like to be in the portrait? What would they like to wear? And how would they like to present themselves?”
The result is a series of image published in her new book Omani Women. She will be giving a talk and signing at Waterstones at Islington Green on 9th March at 6pm.
by Sophie Inge, 3 March 2016
Online, 8 March 2016: