Tashja Rafna

Gallery Vassie is extremely proud to present ‘Tashja Rafna’, a powerful and candid look at the Middle East, by the noted Amsterdam-based photographer Annette Den Ouden. 

“In the most diverse places Den Ouden discovered – often in the margins of the ‘global village’ – how people, despite Western arrogance, political suppression and lack of economic progress, maintain their dignity in the struggle to preserve their culture and their land.” 

Frits Gierstberg, Curator NFI, Rotterdam

For over twenty years Dutch photographer Annette Den Ouden has been photographing the global community. Travelling throughout the Middle East and North Africa, where international and national political conflicts have had an incredibly negative impact on the local population, she makes pictures of the daily lives of these people and the cultural context of their tales.

“In essence my project is an introduction, directed at people in the West, to the ordinary lives of people, like themselves, residing in the Arab Region. People who live their lives in the margins of local and foreign aggression and in the shadow of Western ignorance and prejudice”,says Den Ouden.

Since 2001 Dutch photographer Annette Den Ouden has primarily worked in the Arab Region and Iran, predominately photographing local people in their daily routines, at home and at work. Her aim is to curb the ignorance (and perhaps arrogance) of the West about how these people live within the confines of oppression and conflict.

Den Ouden has documented the revolutionary wave of demonstrations, protests, riots and civil wars in the Arab world since 2010, now commonly known as the ‘Arab Spring’, which marks a new beginning in the history of the world as a whole. She has spent a considerable amount of time in many of the nations directly affected, including Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, and Libya.

In 2011 the ‘Arab Spring’ caught up with Den Ouden while she was on a photo trip around Libya. She experienced first-hand the uprising, which was transmitted around the globe, and photographed the reactions, turmoil and the festivities, until she was dramatically evacuated from the region. She returned in 2012 to the birthplace of the Libyan revolution, Benghazi, to photograph the aftermath of the Libyan Spring. 

During each and every one of her phenomenal experiences over the years travelling throughout the Middle East – whether it’s befriending Freedom Fighters, Nomads or camels, being caught up in demonstrations that have turned dangerous, being sprayed with tear-gas in Lebanon, or pinned into a corner by an enormous tank, levelling its gun at her head in Bethlehem – Den Ouden has always maintained the ability to not simply focus on the sensational and sometimes raging turmoil around her, and instead concentrated on creating strikingly beautiful photographs of everyday people attempting to get on with their everyday lives, within the disability of conflict.

Den Ouden’s eye while photographing these people is not judgemental in any way. She successfully manages to depict these people in a manner that doesn’t evoke sympathy or pity from the viewer, but rather inspires the curiosity to discover more. 

“I depict the effects of the pride, perseverance and courage of people who are building a life for themselves and their families” Annette Den Ouden

A selection of images from Den Ouden’s silently powerful series, “Benghazi: Home of the Brave”, will also be included in this exhibition. Having spent extended periods of time in the region, she came into close contact with the locals, who often invited her into their homes and lives. In Benghazi, Libya, Den Ouden employed her privileged and trusted access by creating a body of photographs which records the homes of people who have lost loved ones in the conflict. Each interior contains a treasured photograph, some enshrined, displayed as a memory of someone who has died.

The powerfulness of these seemingly simple images is achieved by Den Ouden’s determination to not sensationalise these very private places. Her sensitivity to her subjects is evident, not only by her ability to gain their trust, but also by simply recording their spaces in a very pure and honest manner. She takes the viewer by the hand, guides them into this alien world, then lets them decide the direction or path they wish to follow. The images are received without any predetermined expectations.

Addie Vassie, Curator Gallery Vassie, Amsterdam