Tasneem Alsultan’s Saudi Tales of Love project will be on show from December 12 till April 4, 2020 at Dhahran’s King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra). The project, which has been awarded a top prize in Contemporary Issues at the Sony World Photography Awards, documents the choices Saudi women have had to make, including those that challenge and sometimes reject what’s expected of them.
The US-born Saudi photographer, known for fresh and honest approach when it comes to celebrating passionate and unique women, started the project as a reflection of her personal story. Alsultan, who was married at 17, divorced 10 years later despite many family members advising her against it. She soon realised many other women were going through similar experiences and started to interview and snap photos of them.
“With each story, I found more women sharing complex marriage theories and experiences. I followed the stories of widows, happily married women, and divorced women,” the single mother said. “I explored the concept of love, photographing my young daughter and grandmother. Utilising imagery (with permission from those weddings I photographed) I interlaced the construction and expectation of marriage through often elaborate wedding ceremony imagery and rituals.”
The UK educated Alsultan, who based the final thesis for her MA from Portland State University on Saudi women who live abroad and face issues with their identity, started photography as a hobby after years of teaching in Saudi and American universities.
We were engaged and had signed the legal papers to celebrate the marriage after graduation...but, I found him cheating with his friend's wife. For some reason I felt ashamed, so I kept the reason behind our separation to ourselves. I remember sitting in front of the judge waiting for the finalized divorce papers whilst the judge looked at me disapprovingly and said: “had you been a better wife and stuck to looking after your home and husband you wouldn’t be here today”. The judge asked that we go seek counseling first...photo by @tasneemalsultan #sauditalesoflove #saudiarabia #saudiwomen #marriage #love #divorce
As well as being one of the premiere wedding photographers in the GCC, highlighting Middle Eastern culture and traditions, she has been documenting the rapid changes in the sociopolitical landscape in Saudi Arabia. A member of Rawiya, the first all-female Middle Eastern photography collective and the first Arab female photographer to join the Canon Ambassador Program, Alsultan is particularly known for her work on gender and social issues in the Kingdom. She is a National Geographic and New York Times contributor and has covered stories for Vogue Italia and the Wall Street Journal. She has many feats under her belt, and one of her latest is being included as one of the four recipients of the 2019 Catchlight Fellowship.