Maha Alasaker is a Kuwaiti photographer based in New York City. Her work often engages with identity and cultural issues.
Maha speaks to us about her journey to photography, how culture shapes us and gives advice on the human need to belong. since moving to New York everyone has been questioning her identity, wondering how she is who she is. She says these questions arise due to curiosity and also the stigma usually attached to Middle Eastern women. The belief they are constricted to one lifestyle or a certain appearance is often repeated but once those get a closer look and talk more, they soon realise Middle Eastern women are individuals navigating the world one day at a time; like everyone else.
Lets get right into it!
Tell us a little about your self?
My name is Maha Alasaker. I’m a Kuwaiti photographer based in New York City. I was born and raised in Kuwait, and moved to NYC in August 2013.
When did you start photography, tell me the story?
For a long time, I was in search of my identity and what I wanted to be in life. After high school, I studied Industrial Engineering just because I love math! Then, I worked in investment for years, until I figured out that this job didn’t make me happy. So I studied an MBA part time while I was working and graduated in early 2007. After that, I held a camera and became an addict. I taught myself the basics and traveled to London in 2008 to take a course in fashion photography. I had a studio in Kuwait and worked as an editorial and portrait photographer for six years. I worked with Marie Claire magazine in Kuwait for a year in 2012. In August 2013, I moved to NYC and studied photography at the International Center of Photography. I graduated from the school after a year, and I decided to work here as a freelance photographer and an artist.
My work has now been featured in numerous exhibitions in New York City, United Arab of Emirates and Kuwait. Most recently as part of the “Art on Paper” March 2015, “ Miami Project”, December 2014 and “ArtMarket – Hampton” July 2014. I am also being represented by JHB Gallery since July 2014.
How do you find your inspiration?
My subject matter is the woman. I use different approaches and techniques, depending on the issue I am trying to raise in my work.
What draws you to issues of identity that you have repeatedly explored in your work?
I am trying to understand myself through my work. I am in search to figure out myself and the world around me.
I am always asking myself who will I be if I was born in another country? Would the way I think be different? I am trying to investigate how much culture can shape us.
You currently live in New York, how have you found your self dealing with your own personal identity against the backdrop of Trump, immigration and simply the natural process of self growth?
I am terrified to travel; as I am planning to attend my brother’s wedding in April. I have started listening to the news after isolating myself for the past 5 years from the media. I am in shock to hear and see what is going on in the country of ‘freedom’. Yet in my daily life nothing has changed… The American people are accepting me/us… It is the president not the people.
Follow your dreams, and when you have obstacles in your life, this is the time when you should take a picture!
It is interesting you also shoot editorial work, how do you navigate between the two styles of photography? Do you often find they both complement each other when shooting or do you keep the styles completely separate?
I always hate categorizing everything. I don’t think that there is one way or another. We can be many things. Editorial work is my fun time. It is my fantasy word as I am also the art director. Creating an idea then finding a team of hair stylists, makeup artists and stylists to believe in your idea. Preparing all the details in one week, then your idea becomes real.
In my personal work, it is a longer process. It is more of me trying to understand myself. It is a slower base too, as I shoot analog with my personal projects, where in my editorial I use digital. Analog photography takes time and patience.
Tell me more about this project you submitted to us…
My work engages with identity and cultural issues. Personal projects act as my voice to express myself. I am really bad with explaining myself in words, so I use photography as a tool to say what is inside my mind!
Belonging Series speaks about the feeling of being a woman, who struggles to fit in the society. I was addressing issues such as the double life that many people have in Kuwait. I was wearing Abaat as a reference for covering and hiding. This work speaks about being different in your own skin.
What attracted you to black and white with this particular project, what was your thought process?
Taking out the colors makes the image timeless and abstract. Without the color, the viewer will focus on the forms in each image.
The project is titled ‘Belonging’, I think we have all gone through a time in our life where we just want to belong to some where or someone or something, what advice would you give to someone who feels they don’t belong?
To accept themselves, try to understand and enjoy themselves… As human we always want to belong to something and I found out the best thing is to belong to yourself.
Tell me about the art scene in New York compared to Kuwait and what’s it like for emerging Artists?
There are thousands of galleries and art fairs… there are many spaces to show your work and many art residencies that nurture artists and support them… but there are thousands of artists too and as Frank said “If you make it here, you make it anywhere.”
Finally, Connect us with a few of your favourite Arab Artists at the moment.