Samira Yamin
Featured Artist

My work aims to cultivate a critical and dynamic relationship to photographs of war, a practice of viewership with an eye toward the global, political contexts and ramifications of representation, while nurturing an affective, loving gaze toward the individual lives represented and at stake. I engage with appropriated materials to make sense of how political narratives are constructed through photography, a medium driven by the sciences and the pursuit of knowledge, and yet wholly dependent on the individuals that see images through their life-cycle. My studio practice lives squarely within this collision of objectivity and subjectivity, representation and abstraction.  

Shortly after the initial invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, I began compulsively collecting war photography from various sources, and in time noted that all the people that look like me in news media were either dead or dying. So began an interrogation of photojournalism that grew into a full indictment of contemporary war photography as perpetuating a canon of representation of a nebulous Middle East dating to ancient art, and, in turn, the wars waged there. While the specifics may have changed to suit the political narratives of the moment – the 19th century’s “Civilizing Mission” is the 21st century’s “War on Terror” – the fact of a narrow canon remains, to the extent that Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Palestine are not only synonymous with war but metonyms for it.  

The studio is where I engage the slow, ethical labor of cultivating a critical relationship to the systems we use to narrate a chaotic world back to ourselves as a place of structure. Making the work is a mode of research, of meditation, a search for ways to intervene on the representations against which I have had to compose my identity, and on the systems that construct, narrate and perpetuate the very wars that brought my family here from Iran. The objects I make are a small, but necessary, part of my work: trying to see inside and intervene upon a system that depends on concealing its own structure, a system whose stakes are profound and global in nature, but which turn, in large part, on something so seemingly banal as a magazine one reads while waiting at the dentist’s office.