“I loved you because I found you chaste and tender, wise and eloquent. O, Shahrazad, this thousand and first night is brighter for us than the day!” – King Shahriyar, Tales from the Thousand and One Nights.
The Veil. One Thousand and One Nights series. Photos © Zarina Holmes & Salina Christmas.
One Thousand and One Nights is a departure from the news and travel imagery that I have produced.
We had a wonderful curator, Graham Phoenix from The Situation Modern # to oversee the project. He has worked with many established art names such as John Foxx from Ultravox and Alex Paterson from The Orb.
Tales from the Thousand and One Nights # or ‘Alf layla wa-layla’ in Arabic, is an avant-garde storytelling ahead of its time.
It is also unusually erotic and racy, considering that it was compiled in the Islamic Golden Age in the 14th century.
In the book, women are depicted as wayward, mysterious and untrustworthy. However, at the end of each chapter, they are always offered the chance to explain their devious actions in the court of justice.
The story revolves around Shahrazad, a queen who tried to delay her death by amusing an embittered husband with fantastic stories each night, until she is pardoned.
The Boxers. One Thousand and One Nights series. Photos © Zarina Holmes & Salina Christmas.
I was a little nervous about crossing over to fine art storytelling, although I am confident with my artistic direction. The reason is not so much my skills, as I can easily visualise to order in my day job.
With this project, I had to bare my soul. I had looked deep into my darkest corners to emphatise with the pain suffered by the female characters in the book.
I have bags of untreated wounds. So does my photography partner, Salina Christmas. Between the two of us, we had grieved over a few deaths, divorces and miscarriages.
Salina was a victim of a random sexually-motivated attacked a few years back. It was a failed rape attempt. Nevertheless it was violent, bones were broken. She had to take two years break from journalism as a result.
The Three Sisters Triptych. One Thousand and One Nights series. Photos © Zarina Holmes & Salina Christmas.
We borrowed from our pain to visualise the female characters from One Thousand and One Nights: The Three Sisters, Shahrazad, and The Djinnee.
I suggested The Boxers series, to capture the feeling of being battered physically and emotionally. It worked pretty well, since no one had to really act.
The Veil depicts death by submission. I think we all die a little, especially women, when we have to sacrifice a part of ourselves to care for someone. Like marriage for example, giving up dreams to raise a family and be with a husband.
The Djinnee is a shape-shifting restless being, full of tricks and manipulative. A typical female trait found in many oppressed cultures.
The Djinnee. One Thousand and One Nights series. Photos © Zarina Holmes & Salina Christmas.
The final outcome is a series of images re-telling the tales from the book.
One Thousand and One Nights is about postponing our own “little deaths”. We need a good story, a good reason – to go on living another day.
The series have toured many places. I presented it in Uzbekistan during a media training workshop, because One Thousand and One Nights is a Silk Road story and I wanted to see what the Silk Road audience think.
"You are a modern day storyteller, just like Shahrazad," said an Uzbek art director after my showcase.
I guess that’s what I am.
References: Tales from the Thousand and One Nights, N. J. Dawood. Penguin Classic (1973). The Ways of Seeing, John Berger. Penguin Books (1972). Unheralded Stories and other magnificent journeys by Tom Hunter, Zarina Holmes. Sojournposse (2011).
“One Thousand and One Nights” commission for The Situation Modern, London. Curated by Graham Phoenix (Dec 2009). Colleccion Medio Pliego / Luneados / Sojournposse publication. Cordoba, Spain (Dec 2009). The Veil for Opticon 1826, Issue 8, Spring 2010. A UCL peer-reviewed journal. Photo © Zarina Holmes & Salina Christmas