Akkasah, the Center for Photography at New York University Abu Dhabi, explores the histories and contemporary practices of photography in the Arab world from comparative perspectives: it fosters the scholarly study of these histories and practices in dialogue with other photographic cultures and traditions from around the world. Through a range of activities, the center also supports the developing photographic culture in the UAE.
Photographers were working in the Middle East very soon after the invention of photography in the mid-nineteenth century. But despite the fact that there are rich traditions of documentary, art and vernacular photography throughout the Middle East and North Africa, these traditions have yet to receive the full critical attention they deserve.
The Arabian Peninsula is a crossroads where the peoples, arts, cultures, and economies of Asia, Africa, and Europe have encountered each other for centuries. Today the Gulf is cosmopolitan in a truly global sense. Abu Dhabi’s embrace of this history is most clearly manifested in its ambitious plans to build three major museums (the Zayed National Museum, the Louvre Abu Dhabi, and the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi) dedicated to the regional heritage and world art. Akkasah aims to contribute to these crossroad encounters through an ongoing program of conferences, colloquia, publications, workshops, artist residencies, and exhibitions and through the creation of a photographic archive.
Akkasah aims to establish a photographic collection at NYU Abu Dhabi drawn from the Arab world and with a special focus on histories of the UAE. Photography has an especially important role to play in recording the rapid transformation and social diversity of the UAE. There are many collections of photographs, private and corporate, Emirati and non-Emirati, that provide invaluable insights into the UAE’s past. Akkasah will seek to preserve such collections (in either digital or analog form), create for them narrative contexts based on oral interviews and historical research, and make them available via a website for scholarly and general consultation. Akkasah also intends to commission new work. The archive is governed by the scholarly and ethical codes that define the educational mission of the University; the advanced technical resources and professional expertise of both New York University and New York University Abu Dhabi are at the disposal of the archive.
A Few Details for Contributors
Akkasah will provide managed digital storage — that is, digital storage in perpetuity with forward-migration for files once their original formats become obsolete — as well as state-of-the-art physical preservation for negatives or prints in the collection.
Contributors may submit their photos for high quality scanning after which the photos will be returned or they may give the photos to the archive permanently. In either case, a copy of the scanned image for each photo will be provided to the contributor.
To make the collection useful, descriptive information about the photos (either individually or in groups) will be necessary. Contributors may provide this information themselves or work with a staff member, effectively dictating the information.
The photos will be presented as separate collections, each with its own name and details about its origin. All of the collections will be aggregated in the main website for the Archive and will be accessible to the public.
Should a contributor want to provide photos to be made available publicly only at a later date, the possibility could be discussed with the Project Director.
Intellectual property rights for the photos will remain with the photographer unless specific arrangements are made to transfer the rights to NYU Abu Dhabi. The use of the photos will be governed by a memorandum of agreement composed for each collection.
Akkasah plans to host a conference or a smaller colloquium of international scholars each year. These gatherings are intended to encourage and develop new scholarly research. They will address topics either directly related or of broad relevance to photography in the Arab world. The organizers of each conference or colloquium will seek publication for a selection of the papers presented.
Occasional exhibitions of both historical and contemporary works will be held at New York University Abu Dhabi’s public gallery at the University’s new campus on Saadiyat Island.
Contemporary photographers from the region and from further afield will be invited to conduct workshops or to take up an artist residency and to interact with both the students at NYU Abu Dhabi and also with the broader public.
Spotlight: Yasser Alwan Collection
The Yasser Alwan collection includes more than 3,000 personal, family, and studio photographs and offers a varied and often surprising view of the ethnic, cultural, and social diversity that characterized Egyptian society in the first half of the twentieth century.
Photographer Yasser Alwan started visiting various flea markets and book merchants in Cairo in the mid-1990s, purchasing old prints and negatives. Most of these date back to the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, though there are also a significant number from earlier years. The majority of the photographs were sold individually, but there are also groups of photographs discarded together and a small number of albums.
This fascinating collection of vernacular photography presents a great variety of images depicting daily life in Egypt from the decades before the revolution of 1952, from formal studio portraits to amateur family photos of Egyptians, as well as other Arabs, Turks, Armenians, Greeks, Italians, and Western expats who lived in or visited Egypt. There are also photographs of trips abroad taken by Egyptians, as well as a collection of postcards dating from the early 20th century through to the 1960s.
Akkasah, the Center for Photography at NYU Abu Dhabi, acquired the collection in August 2014 and intends to add to it in the future.