GHADA KHUNJI: THE DARK AGES
"These pieces are my self-portraits - a reflection of myself and this 'world' I encompass. . . I am a Muslim. But first and for most, I am a human being. . ." Ghada Khunji
ARTIST STATEMENT by Ghada Khunji for "The Dark Ages"
I was born in Bahrain in 1967. I attended kindergarten at Sacred Heart School and moved on to Bahrain School studying until graduation in ’85. At one point, Bahrain School boasted students from 51 nationalities. Upon graduation, I moved to the UK for college and then to the USA. Every year I’d return to Bahrain for the holidays. I was a third-culture kid. The advantage was having the opportunity to travel abroad. On top of that my own homeland exposed me to diverse cultures, people, and religions.
The youngest of six children, I came from a moderate family. I remember fondly the people, music, laughter, and arts, but also a sense of prayer and good deeds. My father was a devout Muslim yet quite progressive. Education was very important to him, so all of my siblings had the opportunity to go abroad to study.
I witnessed love, respect, and devotion all around. Bahrain harmoniously brought together a church, temple and mosque co-existing within walking distance.
That was then. This is now. I am a Muslim. But first and for most, I am a human being. When I view myself in that light, I can see that there are many others like me. I take out denominations, sub-divisions, pre-conceived notions and newly formed radicalized definitions of words. As it’s said: We are all equal in the eyes of our Creator.
Muslim = Terrorist
Words and imagery have taken a very hardcore twist; twittering or expressing oneself artistically is a sin punishable by death. From Charlie Hebdo to the badly lo-fi ISIS videos.
After living abroad for over 25 years, I returned to Bahrain. Soon I was faced with the concepts of Middle Eastern art and also societal awareness which led to a closer scrutiny of my own art. I questioned myself until I formulated that all religions, all art, almost everything, comes from one source – LIGHT, and that all we are merely doing is recycling that one pure source.
In this new series, I’m not only exploring my vantage point on Islam but more importantly, how our minds have become so accustomed to certain symbols that we forget to see what’s on the surface. Most can identify a Mc as burgers, blue cans as Pepsi, and red cans as Coke. It’s easy to misjudge an appearance; if one is desperately searching for the needle in the haystack, he will find it!
These pieces are my self-portraits - a reflection of myself and this “world” I encompass.
I feel ready to expose my identity as a human, a woman, a Muslim and so on. This is merely my viewpoint, my personal menagerie of moments, thoughts, fears and experiences that have ushered me along. After all, God is in all of us.
Ghada Khunji’s photographic self-portraits in The Dark Ages bring home the necessity of subverting preconceived notions of religion and identity. About The Dark Ages, the award-winning Bahraini artist says, "These pieces are my self-portraits; they are a reflection of myself and my thoughts about the world I encompass.” In The Dark Ages, Khunji turns her photographic lens on herself in depicting the “Dark Ages” of our times. Through 11 striking works of photomontage, she explores her vantage point on Islam through the use of Christian religious iconography, and of how people have become so accustomed to certain symbols that they are blinded from seeing what is on the surface. As Khunji says, “It is so easy to misjudge an appearance."
While her menageries of images evoke metaphors from religious iconography thereby creating striking re-interpretations, upon closer view, they reveal her inner mind, grappling with a complex thought process of deciphering our world through her own personal story. Khunji’s nod to Christian medieval iconography explores her deepest contemplations on cultural identity, drawing attention to her own humanity as a Muslim woman in today’s deeply contentious environment. In her work, she creates her own imaginary reality; “I photograph personal objects and use myself as a muse and montage them as if I’m a painter.”
Ghada Khunji is a graduate of the Parsons School of Design and the International Center of Photography's Documentary Program, both in New York. She started her career in the early nineties as a freelance photographer in the fashion industry in New York City, and spent two years as a research assistant for photo agencies, including Black Star and Magnum, followed by eight years as a printer and print manager for a high profile clientele including Annie Leibovitz and Steven Meisel.