UAE-based photographer Waleed Shah’s work has always leaned ever so slightly towards the provocative, the unusual, the divergent. In his viral photo series last year, he photographed people’s insecurities, shedding light on precisely the parts that they have always either wanted to hide, or been told they should.
In his latest work, he puts an Arab twist on the typical conceptual “magazine cover,” photographing women in Egypt and the UAE, and making parodical iterations of cosmetic and high-end fashion brands’ advertisements, among other things.
Provoked by the often “ridiculous messaging on magazine covers,” as Shah tells us, including statements like “7 tips to lose weight fast!” and slimming tea ads, Shah took to each cover with sarcastic tag lines, written in Arabic and translated into English.
One cover shows a woman posing on a rooftop, in front of a washing line – a typical sight in the Middle East, offering the whole project a bit of grittiness and realism often absent from staged magazine covers – and the tag line “Ahsan men el a’alama el zar’a” (Better than the Blue Tick) plastered on it in emboldened typography.
Another photo is accompanied with the tag line, “place your image here to become a big deal” – a tongue-in-cheek reference to the often glorified stature of the people slapped on magazine covers - some deserving, and some not so much.
From another, slightly different perspective, he satirises the advertisements typical of magazines, usually directed at women, claiming to offer fast “solutions” for those who want to lose weight.
One cover shows a woman’s stomach, evidently free from the use of PhotoShop or airbrushing, with little flaws like marks from clothing. A measuring tape encircles her stomach, and teabags hang from the tape – an obvious yet powerful statement on the lengths women are often forced to go to in order to meet unrealistic beauty standards, often perpetuated by magazines and the media industry. Detox tea, in particular, has been one of the most controversial and polarising weight loss suggestions pushed on women in the past few years.
The translation on the cover also adds to the satirical effect of the works, with the famous Oum Kolthoum line, “Awseflak ya habibi ezay,” twisted into “Awseflak ya habibi el shay,” which Shah then translated to “I prescribe you my darling tea.”
The awkward translations are an intentional move on Shah’s part. “I wanted to give the audience the feeling of being, let’s say, not Arab, and having to read the Arabic first to understand, rather than the English.”
The element of translation in the project also speaks to the widespread English-dominant media, which ends up translated – often in a one-way trajectory – into English. Here, he puts the Arabic language first, and English second.
See the rest of the photo series below.