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Reem Al Faisal

Her work is incredible; the monochrome photographs tell stories of the world through her play with light and shapes. Reem Al Faisal is a name known worldwide; she has exhibited her work in the United

Her work is incredible; the monochrome photographs tell stories of the world through her play with light and shapes. Reem Al Faisal is a name known worldwide; she has exhibited her work in the United States, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, Palestine, China, Singapore, Korea, Spain, Germany, France and the Netherlands. She is the founder of The Empty Quarter – a unique gallery in Dubai’s financial district, which is currently hosting an exhibition “7 Princesses” by Steve McCurry, featuring prominent and influential Emirati women. We’ve sat down with this Saudi princess to find out more about her work, inspirations and the future plans.

What do you draw your inspiration from?
In photography, from my own background, my own culture and mostly from poetry. Poetry is a great influencer in my life; Arabic and all other kinds of poetry. That is my major inspiration and, of course, photographers that I like, specifically those from the 40’s up to the 60’s.

So is there anyone that you look up to, professionally speaking?
Many. Josef Sudek, Ralph Gibson, of course Ansel Adams, Elliott Erwitt- you can name a lot of the classics.

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What about those you look up to personally?
Mostly I look up to people who have died already. I look up to personalities from history. I love history.

What do you think about the art scene in the Middle East?
The art scene here is somewhere in between traditional middle eastern art and contemporary art, there isn’t a continuation of development, so…. the catalyst was colonialism. Colonialism made a big schism in the Arab world, where it was a full stop and then it began again. This formed the last hundred, hundred and fifty years and we still haven’t developed our own identity which is influenced by the West. We are still looking and searching. Some of us have arrived, some haven’t yet. It’s a work in progress.

Would you say that as an artist, you have arrived?
I would say I am still looking. I am still trying to find my own space.

What is your most favourite place on this planet?
China! The whole country! I just keep wanting to go back and I haven’t finished yet. Every time it is a new thing. I’d like to go to Taiwan and Hong Kong, but I’ve been to Mainland China and I always want to go back. It’s fascinating; it’s so old, so new; there is just so much out there and it is not just one culture. China is not a country, it is more like a continent of different races, cultures, languages and the history, of course. Sadly I can’t speak mandarin or kantonese- I can’t.

Have you tried learning?
It’s impossible [laughs], I don’t have the ears. Some people have an ear to languages and I don’t have that. It is very difficult for me to learn a language. It’s very difficult and phonetic and you have to have a musical ear to really know Chinese.

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What are the three principles you live by?
Three? I have ten or twenty… Honestly, including honestly with oneself; humility, in front of others and God; and patience.

What are your hopes for The Empty Quarter? Where do you hope to see it go from here?
Well, my intention originally was not a gallery and more of a centre for photography. I wanted it to become the place where the Middle Eastern photography is referred to. We started as a gallery with exhibitions, but I am moving towards education. My objective is to have good work shops and eventually moving towards a school to teach the technical side of photography. We have already started moving into professional printing; we print even for people who do not exhibit at The Empty Quarter. We hope to eventually do more books; we have done three books, but I would like to also arabise manuals about photography, so that it would be more accessible to the Arab youth and continuing the sense of photography as a profession and art. I am extending it to Saudi Arabia too. We are opening The Empty Quarter there, which is going to be the same thing as here.

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Why such name?
Because the Empty Quarter desert combines all the countries in the Gulf; it touches on every single Gulf country. It was a way of saying that this is something coming out of the Gulf.

In one word, what would you advise to the upcoming photographers?

Lastly, could you tell us something you haven’t said in the interviews before?
I don’t have secrets. I am very transparent. What you see is what you get.


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