A seat at the table

Justin Dingwall

2018 - Ongoing

A Seat at the Table:

I worked with the old saying “a seat at the table” to represent the idea of an opportunity to be heard, to be seen to have a voice and an opinion, and in this way to make a difference.

The images that I have created with Moostapha aim to start conversations about preconceived ideas and perceptions based on appearance and how what we see affects what we think.

It began when Moostapha Saidi contacted me in April 2018 via facebook and Instagram. He was interested in my previous projects Fly by night and Albus. He was interested in the process of my work and wanted to know where and how I created the work. I suggested that we meet and that we do a test shoot. When we met, Moostapha told me his story and what he was trying to achieve. He is very ambitious and I was very keen to help him however I could, and I knew that I could use my art and photography to do so. Moostapha worked at a cellular company where he operated in the call centre but he aimed to move more into the modelling/music/acting industry. This is where I as a commercial photographer and artist could use what I know. My artist side was immediately struck by the juxtaposition of Moostapha being in a call center where he dealt with people on a daily bases, but where no one every saw him. During our conversation, I realised that we could not only use my work for Moostapha as an individual in his career, but I could also engage with the larger topic of vitiligo as I had in previous series’. Vitiligo is a topic that I did not know much about and I am always interested to expand my world through my art and learn about something that is not seen as “usual”. I decided to create a body of work that engages with this topic on a much deeper level, and that raises questions about perspective, as well as how the media and representations subjectively perceive the world and other people.

There are some main aspects of symbolism that are important in the work. I was especially interested in using everyday objects. I like to reinterpret these objects by slightly altering their appearance and presenting them in new ways to the viewer. What I have found very interesting is how people react to these everyday objects once they have been altered and used with in the imagery. Everyone interprets their own significances based on their own experiences - be it positive or negative. I have received very interesting feedbacks on the works that I had not seen when creating them. To adapt an old saying: art is in the eye of the beholder. Viewers bring their own experience and perceptions to the work, and that is what I aim to achieve, for the topics to be openly discussed and brought into everyday life – for people to engage with and questions their ideas.

The reason for the precious stones on Moostapha’s skin in five of the artworks, came from the discussions that Moostapha and I have about his life and how the world perceives him as a person living with vitiligo. He has told me on a few occasions of how people stare and point at him for being different. I have also used the images of thousands of eyes to be a representation of society and how we stare at someone when they look different, when people do not fit into our preconceived ideas. In our conversations I learnt that it was very difficult for Moostapha growing up, but through these challenges he has gained strength and confidence from looking so different. He no longer sees his vitiligo as a hindrance, but as something precious and unique. As in previous bodies of work, I hope in these images to highlight beauty in difference. In these images it is now Moostapha who is staring back at the viewer. Questioning our gaze.

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