REVIEW: Leila Alaoui: Rite of Passage, Somerset House (Online Tour)

Somerset House’s current exhibition captures the photographer’s ability to capture people’s resilience at its strongest.

Tamesloht, 2011 from the series Les Marocains. Leila Alaoui, courtesy Fondation Leila Alaoui and Galleria Continua.

Spanning across three rooms at Somerset House, this strikingly honest exhibition celebrating the work of the late photographer Leila Alaoui is one (even in this online tour) that makes you sit up and pay attention to what she is trying to say in her work.

Guided around the exhibition by curator and writer Ekow Eshun, the exhibition concentrates on how she was able to connect people viewing her work with those she photographed.

This is shown automatically in the first room which concentrates on her Les Marocains  series and features some startling portraits of the people of Morocco dressed in traditional clothing. Captured on black backgrounds, not only does the vibrancy of the clothing stand out but it also allows the personality of the people that she has captured really stand out. Printed as life size as possible, you get a real sense of the trials and tribulations that these people have been through.

It is this sense of perception and understanding that really catches the attention of the viewer – a theme that is consistent to see in the second room which is focused on the No Pasara and Natreen  series of works that are formed of works that are sensitive and heartbreaking to look at, subtly showcasing the expressions of the subjects faces. In particular the works in Natreen which were taken at a refugee camp in Syria really feel honest and emotional to look at. You sense that Alaoui approached each photograph with great care and attention.

The final part of the exhibition concentrates on her final unfinished series Devil’s Island – a video project that highlights the explores France’s history of colonialism and raises questions that we would do well to raise here in Britain. The conflict in attitudes towards immigration and the questions raised feel particularly relevant at the moment, leaving the exhibition on a powerful note.

It would be lovely to visit this exhibition in person to really feel the power of Alaoui’s work, but this online tour does a strong job of capturing the spirit of the photographer and her work that it was aiming to capture for those visiting the display in person.

By Emma Clarendon

The virtual tour of Leila Alaoui: Rite of Passage is available to view here.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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