In the Moroccan countryside on the Mediterranean, behind the cypress trees and between the ancient houses, a small window overlooks the world, not just the neighbourhood next door. Through her window, Fatima Zohra Serri sees a world where women are free to make their own decisions, where they have opinions and ideas of their own; for behind that window’s wall, lies a smaller version of an unjust Arab society, where women still struggle to get their voices heard.
Her conservative upbringing forced Fatima Zohra to follow a different career path than that she had hoped to pursue. Instead, she became an accountant, turning her passion for photography into a hobby, not to kill time; but to erase the stereotypes her society shaped around her. In her portraits, she reflects her reality and starts the conversation on gender equality, or in her case, its absence.
“The entire concept behind my work rises from my surrounding, and the nature of the conservative society I was brought up in. As time passed, I formed a sense of rejection against the repetitive pattern of behaviour that surrounded me, which further pushed me to reflect my reality through my photographs,” explains Fatima Zohra.
Fatima Zohra’s art highlights women’s issues, which may vary between what society deems forbidden or permissible. She grew up hearing the words “Not allowed” and “shameful” frequently, which are in her opinion the lines that society summarizes a woman’s life goals and ambitions within.
“My pictures are a reflection of my daily life, and other women’s lives. I want to depict the challenges we face, and tackle the obstacles created by our society and the community” she says. “I believe it’s a more eloquent way of expression when I use my skill instead of my words, especially if it would shed the light on women’s status in society, with the hope of creating a slight impact over their situation.”
Social media paved the way for exchanging thoughts and opinions within Arab societies, it was in fact the bridge connecting Fatima Zhora’s lens with our phones screens. But that bridge isn’t always paved with bright ideas that encourage change. One of Fatima Zohra’s photographs sparked quite some controversy on her page; she portrayed a silenced woman, and had her eyes covered with a sanitary pad - she wanted that picture to embody violence against women.
While the criticism she faced was expected, Fatima Zohra was confused by the amount of negative comments made by her fellow females, who are in her opinion the ones capable of making all the difference.
“A woman’s greatest enemy is herself. She can allow the same ideas that limit her, into her head, and have them control her life, if she believed that society has the right to take over her life. She is also capable of rebellion, believing in herself and defeating the imaginary barrier she thought was her enemy.”
Critics or intruders, nothing seems to stop this young photographer, nor deter her from believing in women and the bright future that awaits them.
“We cannot deny that Arab women have made quite a difference in recent years, their achievements went a long way, and made it clear to the world that they have a voice worth hearing.”
A recurring message through her art, is the significance of women empowerment in changing the status quo. Fatima Zohra explains: “it goes without saying that women are capable of breaking the shackles society has wrapped around them, but this isn’t a change that occurs overnight. It is crucial that women support each other in the fight for their freedom, because our combined efforts would have our voices reach the entire world.”
Photos: Courtesy of the artist