Photographer Marwan Bassiouni’s new series invites viewers to participate in a dialogue between Muslims and non-Muslims in the West. Growing up in the Western surroundings of Switzerland but regularly in touch with his Egyptian, American and Muslim roots, Marwan learned to see the world through multiple perspectives from an early age. He quickly learned to question local narratives in the West surrounding Arabic and Muslim culture, observing the mainstream media’s perceptions from a distance.
So when Marwan discovered photography at the age of 23 with no prior experience within the visual arts, he knew he wanted to contribute a more balanced perspective of Muslim and Arabic minorities. Starting out his career as an assistant to an artisan studio photographer in Geneva, Marwan went onto make short documentary films for a human rights NGO, then to Egypt for a further six months photographing survivors of the Libyan civil war after the death of Gaddafi.
Though he received acclaim for the series, it was at this moment that Marwan realised a disinterest for journalistic photography and decidedly pursued a more freeing approach to the medium, shedding light on topics from his own angle. At the age of 29, he enrolled in a Bachelor’s degree to proceed with this new direction and embarked on the creation of New Dutch Views, now available to purchase in book form.
“During my last year of studying, I decided to photograph mosques because it seemed like the ideal location to touch on the theme of Islam” explains Marwan. “I wanted to offer a representation that was closer to my own perspective and could navigate the conflict and negativity that surrounds much of the discourse related to the religion.” Capturing a unique form of Western Muslim identity, heartily embedded within the European landscape, Marwan challenged himself to show the diversity of the Dutch landscape from inside Dutch mosques.
There are more than 400 mosques in The Netherlands, each offering a unique perspective of Dutch identity. In turn, the photographer began to search for mosques with quintessentially “Dutch views” in all corners of the country, capturing scenes that show a “different aspect of the local culture.” After considering the ideal weather and lighting conditions, as well as the composition of the mosque’s windows, Marwan obtained access to the spaces to photograph his chosen spaces. “I photograph the insides of the mosque and the views separately then I merge them together in post production” adds the photographer. “I do this to create a final image that is richer in both detail and information. It also allows me to find more harmony and balance formally between the inside and the outside. I want our eyes to equally divided between the inside and the outside, so although I use multiple images within each composition, the end outcome depicts real situations.”
Initially intended as large-scale prints for an exhibition, Marwan’s vision for his prints saw him printing the images at 1.65 by 1.25 meters to simulate an actual window. He presents the viewer with a realistic view, and similarly to how you would approach a window to ponder its position, Marwan intends the viewer to do the same. In turn, offering new perspectives to the viewers.
One day, when visiting the show, “I overheard some of the visitors saying that the photographs were so Dutch,” the photographer tells It’s Nice That. “This made me so happy. Another time, a young photographer told me that when he saw the photos, he realised that all his friends were from the same socio-cultural background to him, and he began to wonder why he hadn’t made any friends with people ‘different’ to him. Some people told me the images gave them hope. I also felt happy to hear that.”
About the Author
Jyni became a staff writer in March 2019 having previously joined the team as an editorial assistant in August 2018. She graduated from The Glasgow School of Art with a degree in Communication Design in 2017 and her previous roles include Glasgow Women’s Library designer in residence and The Glasgow School of Art’s Graduate Illustrator.