Aïcha Mouhamou

22 Oct 2020
Life & Culture

A Stroll Down Riffian Lane With Belgian Photographer Kawtar Ouh

Capturing people’s voices. That’s what photography is all about for twenty-one-year-old Kawtar Ouh. For the exhibition, ANA-NESH in collaboration with Al Arte, Kawtar Ouh, and six other artists went looking for their urban identity. She returned to her Riffian roots to explore herself.

Moroccan inspiration

Kawtar Ouh is based in Brussels and grew up as the youngest of four children in a Moroccan and Riffian household. From the age of ten, the young photographer was interested in photography after being fascinated by the reality series America’s Next Top Model. Not much later, her very supportive father gave her her first camera. Result: she loved it and still does.

Surrounded by a pair of traditional Moroccan dresses with a lot of antique Tamazight jewelry, Kawtar Ouh vividly explains how the Moroccan culture, the locals, the typical colors, and scents inspired her to try something new. “I took most of my photos in Morocco out of a moving car. So they’re snapshots, which I don’t manipulate because I want to show the purity of the photographs.”

Women wearing henna also often come back in her photography. Kawtar prefers to photograph women over men because she identifies more easily with them. “Henna is just something very pure for me. When I’m wearing henna I immediately think of my grandmothers.”

ANA-NESH

“Ana” is the Arabic word for I and “nesh” is Riffian for I. The expo is about seven diverse artists in search of their identity. They find it important to know who you are, how you grew up, and with whom you identify. “By looking at the photos you see that every artist has a different vision of identity which is normal because everyone is different, comes from different places, and has seen different things.” So many different people will be able to identify with the work on display.

A Riffian Quest

When we ask Kawtar Ouh if she has found what she was looking for during the making of the expo, she laughs, thinks, laughs again, and takes a deep breath. “I struggled with the theme I wanted to work out for ANA-NESH. So I went back to my roots.” Her series is called Izouwran, which is Riffian for roots. “I asked myself: who am I? And kept thinking about the bond I have with my grandparents, especially my grandmother on my mother’s side. She passed away eight years ago…”

She tells us about the typical Amazight tattoos her grandmother had, how fun her grandmother was, but most importantly, how nurturing she had always been. “My grandmother was a mother figure to a lot of people, myself included.” Kawtar Ouh is still searching for her identity, and to do so, she keeps going back to her Riffian culture. It’s a big part of who she is.

She distinguishes herself from other photographers by immersing herself in people’s emotions. “I try to capture people’s voices on film. Once I have that, it all just comes together. You can find me often at human rights related protests, there, you’re surrounded by so many emotions. Capturing that is so raw.”

Lockdown series

The Riffian culture is very active in her household. And during the lockdown, she thought about who she was and in which direction she wanted to continue her photography. That is why she created a small series on her Instagram “Lockdown in a Riffian house”, for which she traded her digital camera with an analog one. “With analog photos, you don’t know what the outcome is going to be, if it is going to work out or not, and that’s exciting. The vibe and the colors that come with analog photography are so different than digital photos.” Kawtar Ouh’s following enjoyed seeing what her Riffian culture is like, but she’s also aware that her fans are a diverse group.

The Morocco she grew up with is not what the Belgian press often tries to visualize. That is why she likes her Riffian photography to also be a warm welcome for people who aren’t close to the Moroccan culture.

Pure nostalgia

While thinking about her proudest photo, Kawtar grabs her phone in between her colorful Takchita’s, which is the Arabic word for traditional Moroccan dress, and shows us a photograph of three women in Moroccan clothing standing on a roof in the Northeastern Rif region of Morocco, Nador. The one in the middle is her mother. “This photo reminds me of Morocco. The way they hold each other, how they look down on the street, the henna on the skin, the jewels. It looks like pure nostalgia.”

Kawtar Ouh likes to keep her feet on the ground. “I just go with the flow. Just like my first exhibition, two years ago, happened very randomly. I had never really dreamt of having an expo, it just merged into each other. Now, I’m twenty-one and my second expo is coming up very soon. Which I am very thankful for.” Although she says she doesn’t have big dreams, she would love to have an expo abroad one day.

In the future, Kawtar Ouh wants to keep growing as a photographer. Right now, she is busy working on a book of her lockdown series “Lockdown in a Riffian house”, which she plans to release in 2021. “I want to keep sharing what I want and what I can but most of all, I want to continue capturing people’s voices.”

Photos by Robin Joris Dullers
Text by Aïcha Mouhamou 

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