Photography, 2007

Artist Statement:
Sama Alshaibi
“and other interruptions”


As a migrant whose travels have taken me to live in several countries and regions, I have found an interesting pattern: the re-creation and reconstruction of a migrant’s motherland is a process that begins in the adopted homeland. This is true despite the fact that the new surfaces of an adopted home do not hold a memory of one’s history. There is no comfort in place, and there are no visual clues to trigger one’s sense of identity and culture, a fact that can ultimately foster as much alienation as comfort.

Those who immigrated to lands starkly different from where they were born or raised in, even for brief periods, seem most attached to reconstructing a present memory of culture and identity in their new locations, often by recreating situations and contexts that emulate elements of their homeland, even at the risk of ridicule or persecution. Those like myself, who by chance or intention migrated to lands whose physicality reflects the motherland, find profound comfort in place and our senses of identity not as troubled by location and relocation. The landscape breeds a security that has provided me with the much-needed reassurance of coming home.

My homelands of historical Palestine and Iraq, as well as the other countries I’ve lived in as a child (Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Jordan) are all similar to the landscape of the Southwest. Indeed, the land here holds my memory; it reflects my identity in the presence of red earth, sandy dunes, warm gulf waters, rocks, shrubs, cacti, palm trees, sweltering sun, big starry sky nights, and vast spaces. These are journeyed by pilgrims and tourists en route to ancient ruins and significant spiritual destinations, as well as those looping on the crossroads of utilitarian borderlands. From this utopian position, I reflect the landscape and the earth, in return, remembers me.

As a migrant from third world states adversarial to the US and Israel, my body’s presence at their borders causes a predictable disturbance. Similarly, my body’s presence at the borders of Arab countries raises suspicion due to my US nationality and the stamps of numerous Israeli entry and exit visas. The honest answers to questions about my travels are always unsatisfying, and my presence is disconcerting to those who police these boundaries. Like many immigrants, my life will always reflect the crossings back and forth between motherland and new land as I attempt to remain close and connected to my culture, family, and friends. But for first world nations, my passport reads like the story of a shifty wanderer, a hyphenated profile that doesn’t fit in tidy spectrums of security risks. Like many, I simply don’t fit into polarized binaries that shape the perceptions of border agents.

I am Palestinian, Iraqi, naturalized American who is Muslim, married to a Christian African American. I travel alone, with professional photography equipment, but I am not a journalist or a protesting activist. I am a professor, a mother, a possessor of an American accent, without hijab. I speak English well, I know my rights, and I am unafraid. The layers of questions, interrogation, and intimidation directed at me by borderland officials are false displays of security tactics. The existence of these images in this exhibition makes clear two simple facts; borders are negotiated and they are porous. In them, my own multiplicitous and shifting identity exposes the theatre of borderlands. From this anti-utopic position, I also reflect the landscape, divided and guarded.

Nationalist security projects aimed at protecting homogeneity are caught in a vortex; they fail to erase or eradicate the undesirable and questionable diasporic body or hyphenated identity from the land, in fact they are producers of them. My work is a journey through this paradox; in my images, my body performs trajectories of the orientalist, colonizer, refugee, native, nationalist, alien, illegal, settler, Sephardi, Muslim, Palestinian, Iraqi, Arab, beduin, etc. on the site of investigation. Space, distance, proximity and access suggest an awkward synthesis that has become my hyphenated identity.


Sama Alshaibi is assistant professor of art in the Photography Department at the University of Arizona, Tucson. She is co-founder of the 6+ women’s art collective. Born in Basra, Iraq to an Iraqi father and Palestinian mother, and now a naturalized US citizen, Alshaibi’s recent works investigates “borderlands”, including her own hyphenated identity, as critical sites in both physical and psychological terms. A multi-media artist, Alshaibi’s photography, video and installations are widely exhibited internationally including South Africa, The Occupied Palestinian Territories, Israel, Ireland, China, Jordan, Guatemala, Mexico, Colombia and the USA. Her art and essays have recently appeared in Nueva Luz, Frontiers: A Journal of Women’s Studies, and Refuge & Rejection. Alshaibi received her MFA at University of Colorado (Boulder) in Photography, Video and Media Arts (2005).

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> List of resident artists at Darat al Funun

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