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Yumna Al-Arashi

The young New York-based photographer with a background in politics approaches the delicate topics of sexuality and religion

With a degree in International Politics and the Middle East, Yumna Al-Arashi is not your average fashion photographer. Despite her Westernised upbringing, her interest and vast knowledge of her ancestral roots and culture are intriguingly one of the main influences for a lot of the work she produces; along with other themes such as sexuality and politics.

Graduating in 2011 from the New School, Yumna now lives and works as a freelance photographer in New York City, as well as in the creative department at a fashion agencey. With no formal training in photography, this 23-year-old speaks out about her urge to simply create honest work, whilst learning and having fun and sharing all that she experiences...

Dazed Digital: How does your background and studies in international politics influence your perspective as photographer?
Yumna Al-Arashi:
My father was a working diplomat when I was growing up in Washington DC so, due to my environment, politics intrigued me from a very young age. I was only in middle school when 9/11 happened and it really opened my eyes to an entire part of my identity that was so immensely part of  what people were talking about every day. I remember being confused when thinking about my roots and how negatively they were portrayed. I began to appreciate the history and the culture of The Middle East that no news report would ever project at the time.

Photography was something I taught myself and didn't neccesarily need formal knowledge in, so I chose to study politics and The Middle East at college instead. Doing so made me realise that I could share the good and importance of a culture that no one around me knew about through my images and experience.

DD: Sexuality is a strong reoccurring theme within your work. An issue viewed as something quite taboo in Middle Eastern society, specifically surrounding women. Why is this such an important subject for you to focus on?

Yumna Al-Arashi: I believe that controlling sexuality is the root of controlling all power in a society. To be able to  openly bring a woman's sexuality to light is an incredibly important step in expressing a woman's freedom and humanity. Discussions of sexuality shouldn't be taboo, and my hope is to be able to open the forum for further thought on the issue.

DD: As a photographer with a vast set of interests and beliefs, how would you describe yourself in association with you work?

Yumna Al-Arashi: I know it sounds a bit crazy, but I definitely can say I live multiple lives. I'm a 23 year old college graduate that loves to learn, have fun, and create honestly. I believe my photography reflects each life I live: the political, the cultural and the adventurous.

DD: You have dabbled a veriety of styles photographically. From shooting press images of Theophilus London, to the daily hustle and bustle on the streets of Yemen. Do you have a preferred subject/style to shoot?
Yumna Al-Arashi: I think it varies depending on my surroundings. I often document the new things I experience and having a voice on those moments. Whether it was traveling with Theophilus and documenting the crazy life he lives or going back to Yemen to see a world behind my veil. I had something to say for both experiences and I shared it. That’s my favorite thing about shooting: traveling, experiencing something different and sharing it with others.

DD: What are you currently working on/looking forward to launching this year?
Yumna Al-Arashi: I’m working on a few different stories right now: a piece on sex and the veil, the forbidden as fetish and a visual reflection on technology and the Internet - just to name some. Since my traveling has been a bit limited, I’m spending more time creating reflections on certain issues that intrigue me. I’m excited to share!

Text by Zeyna Sy