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Anna Aiko, Bedouin women
Photography Anna Aiko

These photographs offer a rare glimpse into the lives of Bedouin women

Photographer Anna Aiko captures the craft traditions of nomadic women in Dubai on her iPhone, as part of Apple’s celebration of International Women’s Day

Just outside the glittering, ostentatious mirage of a city known as Dubai, away from the sleek, steel skyscrapers that rise up out of the desert, there lies among the ancient sand dunes the homelands of the Bedouin people. 

For thousands of years, the nomadic desert-dwelling Bedouin have travelled the terrain that stretches from North Africa to the Middle East. A patriarchal society, the Bedouin follow a conservative way of life and for the women of the tribe this has traditionally meant they keep to themselves, rarely working outside of the home or interacting with outsiders. 

One interloper who was granted access into the private spaces of these women is photographer Anna Aiko, who in her time spent with the Bedouin women, was able to capture the intimacies of their everyday tasks rarely witnessed. “As a female photographer, I’ve had the opportunity to form deeper connections with the women and I have been welcomed like a family member,” says Aiko. “I was able to access the hidden beauty of those Arabic women's lives and their culture.”

For six years, Aiko has been travelling the Silk Road, an ancient network of trade routes that linked China with the West, winding through countries including India, Afghanistan and Syria before ending in Rome. Armed with just an iPhone as both her travel companion and creative equipment, Aiko has been photographing the lives she comes across on her journey.

Born in Tokyo and raised between the Eastern and Western cultures of Japan and France, Aiko’s international upbringing has given her a unique, comprehensive view of the world, a perspective she brings to her work. “I’m really grateful to have these two cultures, the creativity from west and the traditions from the east. It's a dynamic blend, giving flexibility to view the world with a vision,” she says. Since 2019, she has been following the caravan tracks of the ancient Frankincense trade route, covering 2,300 km on camelback. “The beauty of the Arabian Peninsula never ceases to amaze me,” she says. “I’ve been passionate about it for as long as I can remember.” 

Now, as part of a campaign by Apple in celebration of International Women’s Day, Aiko shares photographs from her time in Dubai with the Bedouin women. With the aim of spotlighting inspiring women, promoting the notion of sisterhood, and encouraging self-reflection, Apple has called on female photographers from around the world to reflect on the theme of gender and how being a woman in 2021 influences their work. All images have been shot on Apple’s latest model, iPhone 12.

Through her series of photographs, Aiko intimately captures a woman in the process of the Ghazel technique, handicraft knowledge passed down from mothers to daughters in which sheep wool is turned into the fabrics used in the making of blankets, camel gear, and the Bait Al Sha’ar tents historically used by nomadic peoples in the Gulf region. “These women are really inspiring. As a traveler myself, I’ve been listening to their ancestors’ stories. They traveled according to the flow of the seasons in the vast desert, also taking care of the house and protecting their families,” says Aiko. 

By sharing these images of a rarely-witnessed act and the stories of the women, Aiko says she is hoping to show that we are all unified, no matter the borders that divide us, and impress upon us the importance of tradition. “People can look at treasured traditions passed on by ancestors and dismiss their importance and relevance,” she says. “I want these pictures to help celebrate and preserve the beauty of heritage while coping with the 21st Century evolution.”