Lebanese photographer Youmna Geday reflects on a childhood spent in Saudi Arabia
AK: Tell us a little about yourself to start things off. Where’d you grow up? What are you about? Favourite colour?
I am a true child of the Lebanese diaspora. Born in Canada, raised and grown up in Saudi Arabia, educated in France. I’ve got so many passports I could actually make a living off of marrying any Lebanese who dreams of “civilization”. But for my own peace of mind, I only call myself Lebanese. The other papers are just a mutation of that identity. What am I about? What kind of question is that? Asking for my favorite color is like asking me what outfit I’m most comfortable in: you don’t go to the beach wearing a ski suit!
AK: How’d you get on with the Moutawa’? We hear not exactly well to say the least?
Hmmm… I never really interacted with them per say. But it seems like your little finger has told you a little about my rebellious soul. I never really cared about rules, and I hate blind obedience. I used to go out wearing a really see through abaya, beneath which one could see what I was wearing. Which was mostly a lot of skin. My mom and best friend weren’t very fond of my provocations.
AK: How did you get into photography?
I studied it after realizing that art direction wasn’t made for me. However, during my studies I quickly realized that I couldn’t limit myself to just one medium. It’s not really photography that I care about, but rather what you can actually say through all kinds of images. That’s why I consider myself to be more of a visual artist than a photographer.
AK: What kind of music are you into at the moment? Do you find musical inspiration for your work?
Ever since I moved to Beirut, I LOVE blasting Nostalgie on the radio, singing and dancing along to the old, terrible, perky French songs that my dad used to listen to. It’s really refreshing, and it makes sitting in traffic a lot less frustrating. I don’t listen to music when I work. I think a lot and need to do that in silence. But my memories? They are all linked to a tune.
AK: Living and working in the Middle East, what struggles do you face as an artist?
The whole world, and the Middle East in particular, confuse art and medium, and people feel safer labeling you. My etiquette is “photographer”. I am basically expected to shoot weddings, fashion, and advertising in order to feel valuable or understood. “In a box”. Culture, museums, galleries, these are words that are too abstract for Mr. Everybody, and I just feel his judgmental look that kinda says “Oh, so you’re another spoiled brat who doesn’t want to find a job..”. It’s frustrating, but equally so encouraging.
AK: Tell us about this collection of your works. Where were they taken? Why did you choose this particular style?
The photos shown here are part of a body of works called ‘Sandbox’, and were taken in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. I grew up there and wanted to document the taste that my childhood left in my mouth. I faced a reality I had forgotten about: photography is not a medium most of society there is comfortable with. As a woman, I spent a lot of time in the backseat of cars, being driven from one place to the next. These photos have a layer of dust, blurring the look. I find this choice of image adequate, in some way, to the lifestyle I was trying to grasp.
AK: If you could photograph anyone/anything in the world what would it be?
I want to tell the story of a body that contains all life, and which life contains entirely. This is your story, mine, your boss’, and every atom that surrounds you. You have seen the future and the past and your feelings are molecules of stars. I’m not really sure photography will be the only medium I use though.