Exhibition Review: Hey’ya – Arab Women in Sport
You know that spring has truly sprung in Arabia when women from the region are participating in athletic events with vigour and a brave determination to battle any kind of societal criticism. Highlighting this is one of the goals behind legendary French photographer Brigitte Lacombe’s latest photographic exhibition, ‘Hey’ya: Arab Women in Sport’ which is currently on display in Katara’s QMA Gallery.
Lacombe’s skill as a photographer comes across in her photos which capture the grit, confidence and passion that each of these sportswomen has towards their games. For most of them as Arab women, the journey from home to the playing field has involved many hurdles and their courage and endurance is relayed through Brigitte Lacombe’s artful photography.
Where societal or political pressures stand in between Arab women and their dreams, this exhibition dissolves any preconceived notions or stereotypes about them. The spunky 70 articulate young women featured in these photos are actively pursuing their dreams of fortifying their skill in their respective sports. For example, the perky fourteen-year-old Olla Mourad from Qatar is one of the youngest athletes to be featured in the exhibition. She trains with some of the world’s best tennis coaches. You might recognize her as the girl with her head covered in a light green Adidas hoodie on all the exhibition merchandise and posters. While she is dressed in a contemporary sportswear brand, her covered head also reflects her modesty as an Arab woman. This photo represents the modern, assertive yet feminine Arab woman who does not shy away from following her dreams, regardless of how hard her pursuit might be, which is why Lacombe chose this photo as the face of Hey’ya.
It all began when Lacombe and her sister, Marian were commissioned by Sheikha Mayassa bint Hamad Al Thani to capture the women on their playfield. The Lacombe sisters began their journey by setting up an outdoor studio during the Arab Games in Qatar in December 2011 for Hey’ya, which means ‘Let’s go’ in Arabic. Here they could capture the female athletes in their element through photos and videos. They continued the rest of their journey in other 20 other Middle Eastern and North African countries.
The other Lacombe sister, Marian’s videos of each of the athletes complements the photos in the exhibition. While we get a glimpse into the athletes’ determined spirits through the photos, the videos allow the voices and lessons behind the faces to be heard. They speak about their journeys as Arab sportswomen and where they hope their roads will lead them. For many of them, the ultimate dream is the Olympic Games. They speak about how sport has added value to their life in so many spheres. As Reyma Alen Thomas, a runner in the Qatari team articulated her lesson “In the end, it does not matter whether you win or not, it’s all about the game”.