Erg Zeher desert

I visited the Erg Zeher desert in Morocco back in January 2015 but it made a lasting impression – I could still picture the vast scale of this place, the feeling of loneliness, the peaceful atmosphere, it almost felt like another planet.

Coming back again after two years to take photographs, I was looking to see whether I could still connect to this place, how would the sheer emptiness of the space impact on me? I had a nagging fear of becoming lost in these sand dunes, being trapped in a devoutly Islamic country, not able to get back home. I was acutely aware of Islamic attitudes regarding the naked body and the taboo of homosexuality. These restrictive practices conflicted against the (illusionary) freedom of being in the expansive desert. So could I be myself there or not? 

In my photographs I was looking for a connection between the softness of skin and sand, perhaps finding the same hue of yellow and brown. By using a tripod and connecting my DSLR camera to my iPhone via Bluetooth, I became both model and photographer. It was interesting for me to explore the meaning of the self-portrait and examine how I saw myself in this unique environment. 

I also took pictures of my sister during a sandstorm. Using a length of blue fabric, I wrapped her body to replicate the burqa – an inseparable part of women’s life in most Islamic countries. In the images she is wrestling against the strong wind and air-borne sand which is hurting her body. She has only the ‘burqa’ to protect her naked skin from the stinging pain. This scenario is somewhat contradictory as the ‘burqa’ restricts women’s freedom in everyday life but here it offers much needed protection. 

This solitary figure in the desert appears like a spirit, a ghost, a symbol of humanity struggling against nature. Can the ‘ghost’ win this battle against the desert winds? Can we read it as a symbolic fight against cultural oppression?