|Anonymous, Untitled from the collection of the Fondaton Arabe pour l'Image|
The Fondation Arabe pour l'Image [Arab Image Foundation] (FAI) collects, conserves and shows work which Arab photographers have made of their own world. By its work, this institution, located in Beirut, hopes to counterbalance the image of the Arab world that exists in the West.
The FAI was established in 1996 by the Paris-born Lebanese Fouad Elkoury. He observed that in respect to photography, Arab history is not well documented. Before the First World War the West made only exotic and picturesque images of ruins, ancient streets and cities. In the 1970s the stereotyped images of the news media appeared to take their place.
There were almost no photographs from the intermediate period available. The FAI attempts to fill this gap by collecting photographs from the whole Arab world. Not only must Arab history be visualised, but in this way the FAI hopes to correct the Western image of the region.
Since its founding the FAI - still the only Arab photo archive in the world - has collected about 15,000 photographs. The majority come from North Africa, the Levant (the coasts of Asia Minor, Syria and Egypt) and Iraq, and date from the period 1914-1970. But the FAI also possesses photographs from well before this era. From these it can be seen that Arabs too have been occupied with the medium since the invention of photography.
The FAI is managed by ten Arab photographers, film makers and scholars, coming from Beirut, Cairo, Paris and New York. The basis of the collection consists of photo albums from Arab families, the earliest of which go back to the end of the 19th century. Exhibitions are regularly organised from the collection.
The photographs from Palestine Before 1948 (curated by Akram Zaatari) and Moriccan Albums (curated by Yto Barrada) are being seen for the first time in Houston. The former series shows everyday life in Palestine before the proclamation of the state of Israel. Where the region today primarily affords images of misery, revolt and violence, the past tells a story of an open, cosmopolitan community living together without problems.
Moriccan Albums offers a series of intimate photographs taken in Morocco between 1900 and 1960, with the emphasis on tradition versus modernity.