Visual Essay, 2020

Self Portrait: As My Family

The recent pandemic outbreak has prompted a universal stay-at-home mandate. Like many, I have temporarily moved away from the COVID-19 Hotspot, New York, to live with my family in my childhood home in Bahrain. Throughout this indefinite, disorienting transit of time, the isolated interactions with my immediate family members have provoked me to reflect upon my selfhood shaped by my environmental upbringing. The loss of my ‘selfhood’ as an independent young woman to the shadow identity of my childhood has surfaced deep-rooted tensions that have sculpted my public persona. This photo series consists of self-portraits wherein I performatively stage myself to embody my ‘imagined selves’ and my selfhood within my family unit. I dress up like my mother, my father, and as imagined ancestors in order to display my ease in occupying multiple roles within the demarcated traditional family roles. I oscillate between mother, child, female, body, and person, attempting to occupy as many psychological “selves” as I can. 

 

Beyond the performance of familial roles, I have been consumed with questioning and challenging authorship in the representation of gender roles in the Middle East. As I scoured through family archives, retrieving objects such as photographs from the British mandate of Bahrain, to traditional dolls I was reminded of the role that privilege, of men and foreigners,  took a part in constructing a restrictive identification of the Arab female.  In an attempt to nuance the historiography and methods of imaging,  my present work showcases a series of performative self-portraits wherein I reclaim authorship of my womanhood.

link:https://readymag.com/u925924245/1908058/

 © 2020 by Mashael Alsaie

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