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Who is the face of Qatar? You

Who is the face of Qatar? You
Vani Saraswathi

How would you depict a face that represents Qatar? Would it be singular, or a composite, or perhaps a mosaic? This is the question Mohammed Ismail tries to answer through the lens of his camera. Who are the faces of Qatar?

When Ismail first came to Qatar, he was stunned by how quiet it was here.

“I was in London before moving here so I was used to a vibrant city with plenty of buzz. I remember my first day here like it was yesterday. I went outside and the streets were absolutely empty. It felt like a ghost town, and that stuck with me, because to see so many high rise buildings and yet no one living or working there was such a foreign concept to me.”

That was in 2011. Since then, he has managed to get a measure of the city and the country.

“Anyone who stays for a decent amount of time in England (Ismail’s home) will notice that the country is like a salad bowl – that is to say English society is made up of a plethora of cultural and ethnic backgrounds, yet each culture and ethnic background still maintains its own uniqueness.”

Qatar is equally diverse, but Ismail feels, “the local culture is the only prominent culture and the only way you will get to taste the others is by visiting areas in which that culture/ethnic group is prominent.”

This is why Ismail embarked on the Faces of Qatar project.

“We should use these differences to build a universal brotherhood, instead of using them as a source of false pride, nationalism and racism.”

Inspired by a salad bowl
mohdismail

You can view Mohammed Ismail’s portfolio here: http://www.mohammedismail.com/

“I was raised in salad bowl society… I felt Qatar was missing out on not being more accepting of other cultures, ideas and philosophies. No one culture has all the answers. We were created into nations and tribes with different ideals, not so that we would shun or despise each other, but rather, so we would get to know one another. There is something deeply beautiful and incredibly profound in that idea,” explains Ismail.

“We should use these differences to build a universal brotherhood, instead of using them as a source of false pride, nationalism and racism.”

With this project, he hopes to “break down these walls of prejudice”, which according to him could have been erected subconsciously.

The photographs are framed as tight shots, focusing on the face.

This was by design, as he does not want to distract the viewer by what the subject was wearing, or where they were standing; elements that will draw attention away from the individual and to the differences based on the environment and way of dressing.

“I decided to focus solely on the face with particular attention on the eyes. Eye contact between humans is a powerful form of non-verbal communication… this is a way of showing how similar we are and that any differences should be embraced rather than feared.”

Now all that the viewer has to go on is the individual’s face and their story, which he gathers by asking them a few questions.

“The idea is to encourage the viewer to put aside any stereotypes they may have and to simply look at the individual in front of them as just another human being with a story.”

For Ismail, the most surprising thing learnt during this project is how much some expats want to stay here in Qatar and make a life for themselves and their family, but feel they cannot because they will forever be treated as outsiders.

As for the participants, he feels the more the project grows, the more they can look back and realise how diverse Qatar really is and at the end of the day, they can raise their hand up and say, ‘I am part of this. I am a face of Qatar.’

“The idea is to encourage the viewer to put aside any stereotypes they may have and to simply look at the individual in front of them as just another human being with a story.”

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Shoot days: Tomorrow, June 20 and next Friday, June 27, between 4.30pm and 5.30pm at the Museum of Islamic Art Park. If interested in being featured, all you have to do is turn up.

A legacy of diversity

So far, Ismail has taken 29 portraits, covering 18 nationalities. Before Ramadan, he has two more ‘meet-ups’.

He will continue with the project till he covers every single nationality residing in Qatar. Which according to various estimates would cover just about every nationality there is, barring a few. (There is no single document that categorises residents by nationality, but this piece in BQ magazine comes close to doing so.)

Eventually, Ismail would like to publish a book of the images. For now he is focused on completing the project and holding an exhibition, as he has been approached by a couple of organisations.

“It is one thing to look at the images on a computer screen, but to look deep into the eyes of an individual on a much larger scale only compounds the desired effect,” he says.

Libya-born Ismail, moved to England when he was four, and calls it home. He moved to Qatar for what was then the very first independent Libyan satellite channel. “The position was first a volunteering one, but quickly turned into a full-time position so I quit my job back home via email. So really my move here was completely spontaneous. Three years later, I have moved on from Libya TV and will soon be starting a new job at Aljazeera Children as a photographer. I’ll be paid to do what I love – I have no complaints!”

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