Maybe it’s just us, but in the race to release creative projects that strike a chord with the Olympic Games, it’s photographers who seem to be making most of the early running. Whether it’s contemporary portraits of competitors from the 1948 games, documenting London’s local sports scenes or just terrific action shots of athletes we’ve already been mighty impressed with the work on offer.
But like London buses (when the anachronistic transport system isn’t staggering under the pressure of an Olympic year) they all seem to come along at once, and Hey’Ya: Arab Women in Sport by the Lacombe sisters is another winner.
Photographer Brigitte and her filmmaker sister Marian have spent months meeting more than 50 athletes from 20 different Arab countries, participants in everything from handball and cycling to shooting and weightlifting. The resulting pictures and videos aim to portray personal stories played out against a backdrop of different cultural codes and they are superbly powerful – simple but steeped in narrative, or narratives, as the show cautions us against making generalisations when it comes to this complex, nuanced issue.
“Each of them have different stories,” Marian says. “One Palestinian athlete that I interviewed said they did not have any facilities, or any tracks. She will go to the Olympics, she has never seen a track.
“They tell you personal stories, of how they managed to convince their parents, or how their family helped them, or how they had to fight to get into sport. And then someone will tell you that she just wants to be the best – whether or not she had to fight to get into the sport to start with.”
The drive and determination we are used to hearing from top athletes is certainly present throughout, and while some photographs have discernible socio-cultural connotations – the locked gates of a basketball practice to shield the team from view, the sailing boat against the backdrop of a gleaming Qatari business district, the coach in her headscarf and Lacoste-branded apparel – some are simply the athletes doing what they do best.
As Michael Rock, the American creative director of the show and its catalogue, said: ‘These are women who understand the inherently political nature of their acts yet at the same time ask only to pursue their dreams outside the burden of politics.”
Hey’Ya Arab Women in Sport , presented by the Qatar Museum Authority, is at Sotheby’s St George Street Gallery in London until August 11