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Photo exhibit presents Middle East through new lens

A new exhibit at the Canadian War Museum is aiming to challenge Western perceptions of the Middle East.

'She Who Tells a Story' features nearly 85 works by female photographers

'She Who Tells a Story' will run at the Canadian War Museum until March 4, 2018. (Jean-Francois Chevrier/CBC)

A new exhibit at the Canadian War Museum is aiming to challenge Western perceptions of the Middle East. 

She Who Tells a Story is set to open Dec. 6 and features nearly 85 photographs taken by female photographers from the Arab world.

Lalla Essaydi, a Moroccan photographer and artist whose work is displayed in the exhibit, spoke to CBC's All In a Day at its opening on Tuesday afternoon. 

Her piece, a triptych titled Bullets Revisited #3, features a reclining woman surrounded by bullet casings. 

"This work is inspired by the Arab Spring," she said. "I wanted to represent these women who have been fighting among men for their own rights." 

A new perspective

The exhibit features the work of 12 women, whose photographs mix portraiture with elements of photojournalism.

Joanne Stober, a historian of war and visual culture at the Canadian War Museum, said the exhibit aims to give Western viewers a much different view of the lives of women in the Middle East.

"It's an intense look at 12 different perspectives from women from Iran and the Middle East, which is something we don't usually see in the Western world," she said. "We're often the eyes looking in ... and this gives us the view from the inside."

Lalla Essaydi, a Moroccan artist and photographer, is part of a new exhibit at the Canadian War Museum called 'She Who Tells a Story,' which aims to to challenge Western perceptions of the Middle East. 0:25

Essaydi said the experience of photographing women in the Middle East came with challenges — many couldn't understand why she was taking her work to the West, she said. 

"They couldn't understand why I am taking pictures of women, which is very intimate," she said. "There is a sense of disloyalty to my traditions and my culture and my religion."

First exhibition in Canada 

This is the first time She Who Tells a Story will be presented in Canada. Past exhibition sites include the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Cantor Arts Centre at Stanford University and the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh.

Stober said each artist has contributed around six pieces to the exhibit, giving visitors a diverse look at life in the region.

"The exhibition is aesthetically astounding," she said.  

The women featured in Essaydi's photographs are often her friends and family members. Her photographs are documentation of the bonds they share, she said, and form an attempt to construct memories for the next generation of women.

"It's about identity, it's about womanhood, it's about empowerment and it's also biographical," she said. "It tells my story and the story of these women."

She Who Tells a Story will open to the public on Dec. 6 and will run until March 4, 2018.