Eman Ali: Succession
Softcover, 160 pages, 210 x 297 mm
£30 / €33
‘Succession’ is a cahier format artist book by Eman Ali (b. 1986, United Kingdom), who lives and works between London, Oman and Bahrain. The work was commissioned by Ffotogallery in Wales on on the occasion of the exhibition ‘The Place I Call Home’, and it explores Ali’s great concern for Oman’s uncertain political future.
The artist book reflects on The Sultanate of Oman – a country previously known as Muscat and Oman, located on the southeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula. For many years, Oman has been a place of British and North American Imperialistic involvement due to its important oil reserves and strategic geographical position – located along the Persian Gulf. Since the 1960’s, Oman has been blighted by a brutal civil war in Dhofar (Southern Oman).
Since 1970, Oman has been ruled by His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Al Said. This makes the Sultan the longest-serving ruler in the Middle East and the third longest-reigning monarch in the world. In 1976, once the conflict ended, the Sultan put all his energy and resources into modernising the country and establishing civic and state infrastructure. That gave him the confidence of becoming a peace broker and negotiator across the Middle East.
In his first broadcast radio speech (that is quoted on the spine of the book), the Sultan stated: “Yesterday was lived in darkness but, with God’s help, a new dawn will rise tomorrow on Oman and its People. May God protect us and culminate our endeavours with success and prosperity.” Despite the recent turmoil connected to the falling oil prices and the rise of Islamic extremism, Oman remains a symbol for calmness and stability of the region, serving as an intermediator with the West. With the support of his unprecedented power, Sultan Qaboos has managed to keep the country in a (more or less) balanced situation. Yet, rumours say he is in poor health and soon will need a successor.
In attempt to talk about the complex history of her country, Ali’s ‘Succession’ consists of an archive of found imagery, arriving from the first decade of the Sultan’s rule. The black and white material is sourced from a newsletter titled ‘Oman’, published in the 1970s by the Embassy of The Sultanate of Oman in the United Kingdom. The archival material as appropriated by Ali was initially created to shape the Nation’s identity and its reception with the rest of the world. The artist has then re-photographed and digitally altered the images to intentionally give a more open, but also more ambiguous, interpretation of the ‘image’ of Oman – the way that the officials intended to communicate their country at the time.
The sequencing of images in ‘Succession’ is intentionally fleeting, and the gritty close-ups (by Ali and done with her iPhone) leave the viewer with impressions rather than with any kind of straightforward information. It also gives way to a peculiar aesthetic. That is to say, the fragmented images are open for interpretation and the effects arriving from the close-ups make way for a photocopy effect that we know from risograph printing techniques.
Ali finds way of abstracting the material by means of repetition – showing the same image again, page after page, be it from more close-up, every next time you flip though the book– but also by cropping and sequencing. Furthermore, due to its cahier-size and the specific choice of paper (semi-glossy, most commonly used in magazines), ‘Succession’ has the look and feel of the newsletters from which the images originally arrive.
Keeping in mind the subjective aspects of history, Ali opted to remove texts and captions, thus creating a collection of images that can be read differently according to who is watching. But at the heart of the publication sits a title leaflet, an insert providing a bit of context to the images, written both in English and Arabic. “Photography plays a key role in the construction of national identity and the preservation of memories,” writes critic Camilla Brown, in this supplement to ‘Succession’.
Indeed, with ‘Succession’, Ali manages to accurately resemble the unpredictable point of time in Oman, but also destabilises the way the country was ‘officially’ communicating itself to the rest of the world. Despite the specific historical and political context, the artist wants to broaden the topic and discuss national identity at large. Her view on Oman, serves as a metaphor for the general political and social instability of the modern world and the unpredictable future that awaits us.
Printed by Cassochrome
Edited by Eman Ali
Designed by Villalba Lawson & Eman Ali
Design assistant Costas Kalogeropoulos
Edition of 300