Egyptian photography artist Nermine Hammam (b. 1967) created her controversial
series, Escaton, between 2009 and 2013, to document changing social norms in an
increasingly conservative Egypt. Photographing holidaymakers on a beach in Egypt,
she depicts heavily veiled female bathers enjoying the sea alongside male companions.
Hammam sets these images against grainy black and white photographs taken of
her grandparents basking in European attire, on a similar beach, in a secular and
Westernized Egypt of the 1950s. As these disparate slices of time and place come
together, what emerges is a strong and unexpected record of sexual politics in modern
day Egypt, emphasized always by the sensuality of the water surrounding the figures
as a backdrop. Behind the stark differences in the outward aesthetics of dress, one
becomes aware of a powerful repetition of poses across both sets of images. The central
space occupied by the woman remains unchanged despite society’s growing efforts to
veil and conceal her. Confident and self-possessed, the woman as wife and mother sits
at the heart of each family unit holding the viewer with her powerful gaze, admitting
us into her space. Men occupy the periphery of these images, leaning into the woman’s
space as footnotes to her central narrative. Unexpectedly, the camera reveals a
continuum of female strength across time.
Cotton, C. (2009). The photograph as contemporary art. London: Thames and Hudson.
Foucault, M. (2008). Of other spaces. In M. Dehaene & L. De Cauter (Eds.). Heterotopia and the city: Public space in a postcivil society (pp. 13-30). New York: Routledge.
Golia, M. (2010). Photography and Egypt. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Sontag, S. (1977). On photography. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.