LEILA ALAOUI: PHOTOGRAPHER, WOMAN, FIGHTER

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It was January 15, 2016, when we heard the news.

I had recently returned from a long trip to Brazil, and had reunited with my family in our hometown of Turin, Italy, to begin the new year together. On January 7, my sister returned to Washington, DC, with my father, so he could help with our new born nephew, whilst my brother-in-law, on that same day, took off for an assignment with Save the Children. Destination: Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso.

A week later, gunmen armed with heavy weapons attacked the Cappuccino restaurant and the Splendid Hotel in the heart of the city. The number of fatalities reached 30. As the news spread, we learned that my brother-in-law had escaped the attack unharmed, in spite of having been in the vicinities of the locations attacked (most frequented by foreigners and NGO workers.)

Fast-forward two months later, a friend and colleague takes me to visit Virginia Branson’s (the Virgin founder Richard’s sister) superb riad in the centre of the Marrakech Medina: El Fenn. She’s a guest there, as she’s writing the new Wallapaper guide to the Moroccan city.

As we enter El Fenn, which also boasts a fantastic collection of contemporary art (Virginia has a pivotal role in promoting contemporary Moroccan artists through the Biennale, which is running in Marrakech until May 2016), the first works that my friend points out to me are two large photographs, put up on a dark red wall. They feature two full-length portraits of locals, shot against a black background.

She tells me it is the work of a French-Moroccan victim, shot multiple times, who died in an Ouagadougou hospital three days later after the infamous attacks. Her name was Leila Alaoui, a photographer on an assignment – a women’s rights campaign called My Body My Rights for Amnesty International. This is the tragic way in which I learned of this young photographer (she was only 33) and her anthropological photographic work.

Leila was working on another important and very contemporary project, photographing the generation of North African workers who moved to France, especially the children, the second-generation, some of whom have turned to radical Islam. Interviewed by the Guardian, she said: “I want to look at this lost youth that has no more identity. France holds some sort of responsibility in not integrating this youth. If you’re a young Muslim today in France without opportunities, feeling stigmatized, unfortunately there’s nothing for you, not even leftist ideologies or Che Guevara. When I was 18 I listened to Bob Marley – everybody wants to be a revolutionary at that age.”

With the line of work we are in, our aim is always to raise awareness by telling the stories of ordinary people behind the folklore and the lens. It often takes us to complicated regions. We are aware of the risk, but it always hits you like it’s the first time when someone so talented, passionate and young becomes part of the unfortunate narrative.

Please, if you haven’t done so yet, you can check out her precious work here.

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