Westerners Viewed At A Different Angle

Westerners have always looked at other cultures as different and unlike anything they’re used to. But how different is it when the tables are turned?

For Amira Sharif, using her camera to document the “natives” and photograph what she felt was unique made me wonder how her subjects felt being scrutinized. As a native New Yorker, how many times have I thought of seeing landmarks like the Empire State building or Statue of Liberty and most times, I don’t follow through since I think I will get to it soon enough. It’s not from lack of interest, it’s just lack of commitment to follow through.

For Sharif, it’s a way of learning about a culture she’s not familiar with, and choosing people whom she thinks would be good subjects has proven to be a challenge. Sharif’s goal is to document young American women and learn about their lives. Sharif comes from Yemen and her life is unlike what she has learned.

Freedom to choose how one lives is something that I have taken for granted as an American woman. For Sharif, the idea of living on one’s own is foreign since her life revolves around the presence of family, nuclear as well as extended. “Yemen is more like families and groups — you cannot disappear,” she says. “You should have tribes, like us.”

Sharif had the opportunity to spend Thanksgiving with a woman who became a subject for her project that elicited an unusual point of view. When asked how she viewed the idea of Thanksgiving in the United States, her response was, “It’s like everyday in Yemen. Everyday in Yemen is Thanksgiving!” How ironic that the holiday reminding us to be thankful of our loved ones is not viewed as a yearly event, but a daily occurrence in Yemen. Family plays a major role for Yemeni women and Sharif makes sure that Yemen is not seen in a negative light with regard to her project.

Sharif’s observation of American women has given me food for thought. She has her own voice and is not afraid to voice her opinions, to a point. She is mindful that though she stretches the boundaries of what’s acceptable to document for her project, her goal is to teach other cultures about Yemen, especially regarding women. For me, young women like Sharif, who are willing to push the envelope in pursuit of educating the rest of the world, must be applauded for her efforts.
That’s my take on this, what’s yours?

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