Yumna Al-Arashi is a photographer and visual artist based in Washington, USA. Though she has made a name for herself as an accomplished photographer, Al-Arashi actually holds a degree in International Politics with a focus on the Middle East from The New School university – an extra string to her bow that informs her creative work.
In this photo collection, "Face", Al-Arashi sought to document the disappearing custom of female facial tattoos in North African countries. She travelled between villages in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, simply asking around for directions to meet women who have permanently imbued their faces with ink. She wanted to capture this waning practice among women in this region and hear the stories that lie beneath the intriguing black markings.
According to the photographer, “The disappearance of these tattoos has been linked to the spread of literacy in the Arab world, the importance of style and self-identification with religion and the rise of capitalism in the region.”
The business of tattoos, especially when it is applied to the face, remains a controversial topic. Some view body art as a sign of criminal activity or counter culture. Other people celebrate the tattoo as a harmless mark of self-expression. Or as Al-Arashi found during her trip, a gesture of religious observance and connection to folklore.
Speaking to Artsy Editorial, Al-Arashi explained the profound reasons that the women gave when asked about the meaning behind their facial markings.
“[One woman] told me the markings represent the moon and the stars, that they were the most beautiful things her eyes have ever seen, and that they’ve helped her navigate her land".
"Globalization brought a shift from depending on the earth to relying on capitalistic endeavors,” said the photographer. “So much of the symbolism of the tattoos represents these women’s connection to the land. As that connection loses its strength, the tattoos are disappearing, too.”