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Sama Alshaibi: Unleashing the Saga of War, Exile, and Survival

Sama Alshaibi: Unleashing the Saga of War, Exile, and Survival

Picture of khadijah Malik
Updated: 7 October 2016
Sama Alshaibi, was born in 1973 in Basra, Iraq to a native father and Palestinian mother. She is an artist who uses photography, video art, and media presentation as her mediums of expression. Her work is a fine depiction of dominant subjects like war, exile and survival. It extends to portrayals of vicious truths originating from the human struggle for land, resources and power, ultimately manifesting one’s internal battle in withstanding fear.
Powerful image of woman with lips sewn depicting suppression, oppression and repulsion
Say Nothing, Between Two Rivers. Courtesy of Sama Alshaibi and Ayyam Gallery

Alshaibi, was brought up partially in the Middle East and the United States of America. She received her high school education at Iowa City High School at Iowa city, and acquired her photography skills at Columbia College in Chicago. Being a child to parents from different war zones and having been brought up in the USA, Alshaibi got a chance to view the complex insights of some bitter realities from a very ideal perspective and developed enough comprehension of vital and grave issues, which later manifested in her projects. Here are 9 of Sama Alshaibi’s most evocative works.

Between Two Rivers (2008)

A set of photographs by Alshaibi, Between Two Rivers exhibits the state of Iraqi women who were subjected to the “selling of the war”. The concept that women in Iraq, who were revered for having the utmost freedom in the Arab world, would be further liberated by war under the impression of gaining democracy is challenged. Tribal designs and ancient Iraqi identity markers are subverted to disclose the once pride bearing settlement. The photographs reflect violence, suppression and defeat.

All I Want for Christmas (2007)

A heart rendering short film which projects the simple yet dire desire of the Palestinians to have a look at the seas; Dead, Red, Mediterranean, all currently annexed under Israeli control. Christmas happens to be a special occasion for Palestinians, as Israelis allow them to enter the prohibited territories for a day or maybe for a week even, which gives Palestinians the chance to reconnect with all that has been taken away. Suhair Owdeh reacts to seeing the Mediterranean Sea, ‘My tears start falling, I start crying…here I can touch the sea, and I can hear the waves of the South of France, but in Palestine I can’t…this is what is so hard…that you are refugee in your own country;you cant move, you cant go, you cant feel, you cant breath in your country…’

Warhead is image of missiles intrigues response of fear disgust and terror
Warhead|Courtesy of the Artist and Ayyam Gallery

Warhead (2010)

A photo art comprised of 18 pictures on Harman Gloss Fiber, missiles are captured from different angles. Although the series is left open to personal interpretation, it ironically comments on the nature of machinery and how it naturally triggers impressions of disgust, danger and awe. Warheads tend to rekindle the tragic memories of the past and spark a sense of loathsome relation with any individual of any ethnicity, especially those of war zones.

The Tethered (2012)

This is a project depicting the surreal sacrifices on behalf of the Palestinians. It is projected through the medium of video art, in which 48 circles are used to commemorate the year 1948 when Israel came into existence. She writes, ‘Through 12 years of personal video documentation, Alshaibi’s project extracts the connected yet contentious history from the familiar and often crude depiction of Israel’s ongoing occupation of Palestine. The Tethered re-examines the struggles of the ordinary and extraordinary daily life of Palestinians living under occupation, as well as the occupying forces who are contentiously engaged in brutal force for power and control. Through slow and repeated actions of mediated moments, and a focus on details lost in the normalized hum of the mainstream media, The Tetheredsets ‘the cause’ on an unfamiliar stage and through an unusual lens. By doing so, Alshaibi’s video demands a humanistic reconsideration of the ignored, unexceptional, and often marginalized mediated plight of the Palestinian struggle.’


Baghdadi Mem is a depiction of war scene which intrigues emotional and intellectual response
Baghdadi Mem/War | Courtesy of the Artist and Ayyam Gallery

Baghdadi Mem/War (2010)

Baghdadi Mem/War is a collaborative project with an artist called Dena Al-Adeeb, who happens to be an Iraqi as well. This project is delivered through two mediums; video art and photography. It is comprised of three suite series: Still/Chaos (Video 2 minutes, 12 photos), Efface/Remain (Video 2 minutes, 9 photos) and Absence/Presence (Video 2 minutes, 18 photos). As it is evident by the titles, It narrates the story of contrasts and intrigues emotional and intellectual response on aggrieved subjects like war and displacement. it is ‘the psychosomatic narrative manifests and replays on the topography of body, memory and spirit.’

Vs Him (2011)

One of the more conceptually interesting projects by Sama; ‘Vs Him‘ pictures The Empire, The Ruler, The Lover, The Father, The Son and The Brother in the category of ‘Him’. This projection challenges the various stereotypical concepts, which define gender roles as a very rigid idea in the Middle East, especially projecting men as a threat to a liberal society in post 9/11 society. However, time, economic and cultural forces are progressively redefining masculine roles all over the globe and especially in Middle East. This idea is depicted through media installations, photography, sound art and sculpture. It consists of 9 photographs, 3 videos embedded in custom wood frames, 2 sculptures embedded with audio 1 video projection into digitally printed canvas with sound and 1 light box.


Negative's capable hands shows a gesture of hands depicting harm and danger.
Negative’s Capable Hands | Courtesy of the Artist and Ayyam Galery

Negative’s Capable Hands (2007-2010)

This photo series consists of thought-provoking imagery of 27 photographs, which serve to be a wake up call to its viewers. Using hands, soil, strings and other objects, it metaphorically conveys an effective message of how the planet and its resources are being adversely effected by the ruthless, greedy and selfish actions of its bearers. It takes into consideration major areas like food being hoarded/wasted/ begged for, the nation depicted as whole/divided/diaspora and war crimes in territorial rivalries.

Collapse (2013-2014)

Collapse is a visual art projected through split screen video manifesting the end of communal structure. It touches upon the sensitivity of our bond with the ecosystem and how it is being sacrificed in oblivion. It gravely discloses the gloomy picture of the dreary outcome of our greedy struggle for own merry survival by hoarding more and more power, resources and land.


Chicken depicts motion of hands which hint at doubt fear and hesitation. It's manifestation of inner battle
Chicken, The Pessimists | Courtesy of the Artist and the Ayyam Gallery

The Pessimists (2009-2010)

This is a very thoughtful work in which the inner battle to withstand looming fears and doubts is displayed in photography. Every soul can relate to it and conceive it in every way possible since it intrigues imagination and allows for an open and personal interpretation. ‘Sama Alshaibi once again presents us with that frequent solitude of a common presence. Brushing away her forwarding movements, along with those that precede her initial markings, she could not have established a more fundamental wealth to the existence of mankind; without exposing all of man, without devouring all of man’s land, without occupying all of his nothingness only to realize that history was being deleted only for its repetition and not for its significance of veracity. She was sweeping away her past, and journeying over the deleted traces with a brush of unfulfilled promises.’ (Aida Eltorie, Nadour Collection SWEEP)

Sama Alshaibi has several other projects to her name too with relative themes. She has exhibited greatly through out America, Europe,and Middle East since 2003. Her solo exhibition have been held in London, Dubai, Jerusalem, Ramallah and Guatemala city. She has received several acclamations and awards including Illinois Art council grant in 2000 and 2001, Arab American Book Award in 2014, Creative Palestinian Art in 2010, Honourable mention Excellence in photography teaching in 2008 ,Goueter Missouri Collection Prize in 2003, 1885 Distinguished Scholar in 2003 and many other awards. She has been involved in number of selected scholarly presentations and also has four publications to her name.


By khadijah Malik