Three fascinating things about Akram Zaatari

Alongside Akram Zaatari’s exhibition at Modern Art Oxford The Script, here are three interesting facts about the renowned Lebanese filmmaker, photographer, archival artist and curator.

He has helped to collect and archive the history of Arabic photography
In 1997 Akram Zaatari co-founded the Arab Image Foundation with Lebanese photographers Fouad Elkoury and Samer Mohdad. This artist-led organisation is based in Beirut, and has so far amassed over 300,000 archival images. The Foundation’s mission has been to draw attention to, study and exhibit photographs from the Middle East, North Africa and the Arab diaspora.

His use of keyword searches on YouTube inspired his film ‘The Script’
Akram Zaatari’s research practice led him to search YouTube using neutral phrases such as ‘father and son,’ which he wrote in both Arabic and English to find different outcomes. Viewing some of the videos that resulted, he observed a new trend which saw practising Muslims depicting their everyday lives in front of the camera and, in particular, he saw repeated depictions of fathers observing their faith at home. In his major film The Script, Zaatari re-enacts moments where young fathers fulfill their daily prayer whilst their children attempt to distract them with play. The touching film, currently in our Piper Gallery, might remind us of the fact that such tender domestic scenes of Muslim faith are rarely seen in the Western media.

He has described working with photographic archives as an ‘archaeological excavation’
Akram Zataari said these words whilst describing his long-term involvement with the fascinating archive of the late Lebanese photographer Hashem el Madani (1928 – 2017). Zaatari first met el Madani, a renowned studio photographer based in Zaatari’s hometown of Saida, Lebanon, in 1999 whilst researching another project in the city. Believed to be the first person in Saida to own a 35 mm camera, Madani encouraged his customers to pose however they pleased, whether with a prop, disguise or in the stance of their favourite Western film star. The prolific work of Hashem el Madani captured the aspirations, personalities and ideals of everyday citizens, offering a unique record of a modernising pre-civil war Lebanon. Inspired by el Madani’s Studio Shehrazade, Zaatari began working with the elderly photographer on an ambitious archiving and preservation project, which led to the wall-based photography series now presented in our Upper Gallery, Footnote to Studio Practices (2018).

Read more about The Script here

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