Dubai: Lamya Hussain Gargash is a fine art photographer. She has a vast body of work to her credit and they invariably focus on spaces. Spaces that are void of humans, yet evoke humanness.
A mother of four, the 1982-born Emirati, who incidentally lets on that she was born on 11/11, considers herself a “through and through Scorpio”.
“Ever since childhood, I have been fascinated with the arts and music. However, these skills were not considered a profession, rather a side hobby. It never crossed even my mind that I could be a working artist,” she says candidly.
Having grown up in an old neighborhood in Hamriyah, Deira, her early life shaped the artist in her.
“Most Emirati families I knew resided in the same area; it was quaint, and we were a community. We went to the same school and shopped in the same mini-marts, and overall, the vibes were warm and welcoming. We all knew each other, and that is something that I find lacking now – the intimacy and familiarity,” she says.
“Like most Emirati families, we lived in a family compound encompassing the villas of my immediate family, my grandparents, my great grandmother and my uncle.
The essence of my work has always been my past experiences and the living spaces I grew up in,” she adds.
Lamya, who went on to do her BA in visual communication at the American University in Sharjah in 2004 and a postgraduate degree in communication design/ photography from Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London, says she documents spaces as “a homage to my home, my city, my country.”
Her visuals appear as if her lens were trained on abandoned spaces. But that’s not quite the story. As she explains, “It is not the concept of abandonment which intrigues me. It’s the existence of a human narrative in space without a human figure’s physical presence. We live at a time where everything goes by super-fast, and we fail to recognise the beautiful moments and the details of the everyday.”
Lamya believes she is an observer. “I live my life through visuals. Stories form in my mind as a series of images rather than text, and my work directly opposes our fast-paced society. Using analog photography reflects this opposition.”
It all started with her thesis study, Presence, which was about documenting Emirati family homes, specifically in Dubai, Sharjah and Ajman, through different stages of abandonment.
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“Its initial stages are the process of moving and then complete abandonment. Extinction is inevitable, and a new identity is forming. With it, a cultural change.
Modernisation has transformed the old and cultural infrastructure into beach resorts, rental compounds, and even shopping malls,” she reflects.
At a more personal level, she reveals how her family home was her muse. “I kept going back to visit the place and photograph it until a day before they tore it down. Post-2007, my family home remained in a limbo for many years, slowly deteriorating until it no longer resembled the home I once had. Photographing my family home was a pivotal moment for me. It was a force that inspired me to pursue this further,” she says.
Through her work, Lamya has been on a mission to preserve and celebrate the human narrative for almost two decades. Going beyond the limits of her house, her city and country, she extended her documentation overseas too – covering communities in Beirut and Tokyo.
Lamya’s spaces are personified visually. Every room takes on a character and persona.
“That is showcased a lot in my work, the nonexistence of humans or living beings to draw attention to the rooms themselves, and from there, narratives are drawn and read. Rooms and spaces speak volumes not only of times gone by but also of the existing human experience. They all have a particular character and demeanor; to depict that, I eliminate a physical human presence. The viewer needs to delve into the details of the space,” she explains.
Lamya says she is a traditional photographer. “I still use film. I like to challenge myself and am constantly going against the tide, which can be exhausting. The world is making this considerable shift towards a more digital realm. In contrast, I find comfort in working with the traditions of the past. It is something about the anticipation of the work to unravel what excites me,” she reasons.
For her, the film’s dying medium concept complements the themes she undertakes. “Not to mention the aesthetics of film which is magical. The anticipation of seeing my images is exhilarating. It is not instant; one needs to be patient, and this, to me, is exciting and beautiful at the same time. I wait for something to unravel and unfold,” she adds.
Lamya Hussain Gargash is currently exhibiting her work ISTHMUS at The Third Line Gallery in Dubai. “ISTHMUS is a narrow strip of land that connects two bodies of land. The title works exceptionally with my art and photographic journey. Despite the difference in a visual context, my photographic studies have all come down to one main idea: Celebrating the human narrative in space,” she says.
According to her, the work encompasses various studies she has done over the last few years, from documenting Abu Dhabi clubs to the Queen Elizabeth 2, a family still-life portrait, and photographing her ancestral home.
“There is much beauty in what is now considered banal. The unseen, the overlooked. I like to provide insight into more intimate spaces opposing the globalised commercial image that the media seeks to present of my home.
“So it sheds light on the banal and everyday visual acquaintances that play a massive role in our evolution, for they garner and collect our experiences, memories, and emotions,” she concludes.