– Hi, I’m Halemah, I come from a little town in Illinois called Burbank. Lived there most of my life. I spent some years living in Palestine as a child and go back every few summers. I have a B.A. in Psychology from UIC, as well as some post graduate classes from Columbia College Chicago in Film and Video.
How was living in Palestine? What impact did it have in your artistry?
-Living in Palestine was where my childhood started, I was 5. I was exposed to a life in a village, with valleys and hills as well as plenty of cousins, aunts and uncles. We all work together to get our food on the table. We whip the olives from the trees, to get the olive oil, plant the fruit trees and vegetable seeds. I would always steal pomegranates from our backyard garden, but shortly would get caught by my grandmother. Besides the unforgettable adventures, I was exposed to checkpoints, rerouting to a longer road to get to a relative’s house. A ten minute ride would now be an hour. I experienced tear gas while shopping for our Eid Holiday in the city, banging on our doors at 3 am where occupiers look for your male cousins was common. This all came together as I was trying to decide what to do as a career. I Ultimately wanted to make short films about my experiences from this other corner of the world. I wanted to explore other corners around the world, who was like me, and what kind of places exist besides this one that I was living in. I was very aware that I was different than many of my classmates ever since coming back to the U.S. in the 5th grade. I didn’t know how to express myself for a long time or if people would understand my perspective. Taking photos is the easiest way for me to let out my view.
(A view from across my fathers home in the valley of his village in Palestine.)
How did you fall in love with photography?
– I fell in love with photography junior year in high school (2001). I needed an elective, and wanted a hands-on class. I was curious and eager to learn the process that allows a past moment to be frozen and then later developed to be shown in a present time. It was some sort of magic.
How does photography help you tell your story?
– I articulate my thoughts with visuals. It’s how I speak my feelings, or an emotion. I try and push someone’s focus on something particular in a photo to see if they see what I see. To share a connection of some sort.
(My family and I took a long ride to Jerusalem on a very hot summer day. I had a span of one minute to shoot something I wanted, since my family members were looking for shaded areas to rest as they were walking swiftly through the Old City and I didn’t want to lose them. It was fairly empty and I saw the space and historic architecture that I loved. Along came a young girl in the frame without notice, and I loved it even more. For me, It was a symbol for all the innocent children who live in conflicted parts of the world that just want to run and have a happy memory.)
As a Palestinian-Muslim-American Woman why is it important to tell your story?
– It’s an uncomfortable time in today’s political age for people who share the same background as I do. I am human before anything else and that’s how I look at the individuals I meet in the world that we all share. I know I am a woman who just wants to take some photographs and learn the art form to the extent of producing something unique. I just happen to have a rich middle eastern culture that I grew up with as well as practice my freedom of religion.
(The daughter of one of my cousins in Palestine observes me while I’m observing her at her home. I like how the sunset colors are giving her a shadow. I was fairly new to using my digital camera when I last went to visit.)
You talk about today’s political climate, as an artist and a human being, what are your advices to other muslim artists trying to live out their lives during this heightened era of islamophobia?
– The most important thing that I can think of right now for others as well as myself is to have confidence in the love you have for your art or craft. It’s tough out there, but that’s ok. You will be let down, but there will always be someone else somewhere willing to help you. Don’t be afraid to express your ideas but also take constructive criticism to produce meaningful results. Reach out to people you want to collaborate with, even if it’s not something you normally do. Don’t do the usual. Use your unique background to add a rarity to the art world or muggle world that people don’t expect to see. Most certainly they haven’t seen enough of us 🙂
Anything exciting we can look forward to in the future?
– There are so many avenues in the photography world that I have yet to explore. I’m hoping to go back to Palestine and get a series going. I’ll also be traveling to the West Coast in April to get some landscape shots of Death Valley. It’s been on my list for a while!
For more information on Halemah, make sure to follow her on instagram!