Stunning 'Women by Women' exhibition joyously shatters stereotypes

The male gaze is the lens through which much of the world is still presented and perceived.

It’s often spoken about when men portray women in ways that feel inauthentic to the female experience.

The same thing goes when an outsider might try to capture a certain culture, ethnic identity or social group they don’t belong to.

Often, we see stereotypes reflected in the work.

Action Aid’s Women by Women exhibition is back for its second year, and it aims to undo this with the use of powerful photography.

Working with women photographers internationally, they’ve created an experience that showcases women in all their glory – focusing on happiness and celebration, rather than struggle.

What the photographers depict so well in their shots is the joy in these women’s lives. It’s an uplifting, vibrant collection of images presenting a side of womanhood that can be neglected.

Etinosa Yvonne, a self-taught documentary photographer and visual artist from Nigeria, is one of the photographers on the project.

She tells ‘If I’m documenting someone, I question how I would like to be seen. That’s one of the things I always ask myself. Is it appropriate?

‘I’m always trying to put myself in people’s shoes. As much as possible I do not like to take advantage of people and make sure they always, always have dignity.

‘It is very easy for women and girls in minority groups to be misrepresented because they don’t always have the means or power to share their own stories therefore someone else tells it on their behalf. 

‘This reinforces power structures and it becomes a fight to be heard and represented in a truthful way. 

‘I cannot over-emphasise the need to continue to allow women to tell their own stories.’

‘From Senegal’s shrinking islands, to the sprawling settlements of Dhaka, the exhibition follows the lives of courageous women from five countries who have found ways to tackle sexual violence and climate change on behalf of their communities,’ reads Action Aid’s description.

‘The photos include a cleaner in Nigeria who lost everything when her husband died until she fought back for her land rights; businesswomen in Hebron, Palestine, where nearly two in five women are unemployed and women in Vietnam, Senegal and Bangladesh who are adapting to climate change in different ways.

‘The project aims to bring an antiracist and feminist perspective to the way women and girls living in poverty are represented.’

Samar Hazboun, a Palestinian photographer also involved, echoes this view, believing its important people don’t default to the victim narrative.

She says: ‘It’s important to communicate with the person that you are photographing, to tell them that your interest is not to show them as victims.

Sometimes you want to fit someone into a specific narrative so that it serves the agenda and that is extremely dangerous and can be taken advantage of.’

The Women by Women exhibition will be on display Thursday 16 to Sunday 19 September at [email protected], Southbank, London.

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