A mother, daughter, and her doll challenge conservative taboos in Yemen

The World

Have you ever had to explain your job to your mother?

Boushra Almutawakel did. She is a photographer from Yemen.

“I was more fearful of what my family was going to say than what the others would say,” she says about the opening night of her photo exhibition in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa.

And her work could be considered as controversial in a conservative country such as Yemen.

In her series called “Mother, daughter, doll,” Almutawakel portrays herself along with her daughter who is clutching her doll. As the photos progress, Boushra’s hijab and that of her daughter’s become more and more conservative. That is until in the last photo, they both disappear.

“It’s kind of pretty self-explanatory in some sense, but some people didn’t really understand it. They thought what do you exactly mean? Whereas I think the majority of people did understand it and I was happily surprised at how it resonated with so many,” she says.

Almutawakel continued to receive feedback to her “Mother, daughter, doll” exhibition. A few months later, she says, her mother “found it extremely strange and odd that I would exhibit photos of myself and my daughter to the public,” she says.

Becoming a photographer in Yemen was not easy for Almutawakel. She says she had to overcome her own fears and doubts about taking up this profession.

But then she did decide to follow through her passion.

“I thought no one would take me seriously if I didn’t take myself seriously first, and that’s when I went to school and I decided to do it head on and I haven’t been back since.”

In a TedX talk, Almutawakel speaks more about her fears and how she overcame them.

Her work is also part of an exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

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