Photos: Female Arab Athletes On The Rise

Jul 27, 2012
Originally published on July 27, 2012 12:47 pm

The Olympics have come a long way since the days of scantily clad Greek men throwing javelins. It wasn't until 1900 that women competed for the first time. And for the first time ever this year, Saudi Arabia is allowing women to compete in the Olympics. (Though even that's complicated.)

Capturing the zeitgeist, Brigitte Lacombe was commissioned by the Qatar Museums Authority to photograph about 80 female athletes from 20 Arab countries. Her series, Hey'Ya: Arab Women in Sport, is currently on display at Sotheby's auction house in London. (Hey'Ya translates roughly from colloquial Arabic to "let's go.") The photos also recently comprised the cover story of Financial Times magazine.

Not all the women in these photographs are going to the Olympics, but a few are; according to the exhibit literature, Lacombe wanted to photograph athletes at all levels, like the Jeddah Green Team, a women's basketball team in Saudi Arabia that is not allowed to practice publicly. She also photographed Woroud Sawalha, a runner from Palestine who qualified for the Olympics this year but didn't have an actual track to train on.

In the introduction to a forthcoming book about the photographs, Gina Alhadeff describes a photo of Ali'a Madani, a weightlifter from Sudan: "If I had to choose an emblem for the whole series, for the project of portraying not just the rigors of the sports, but also the happy endings awaiting women who want to practice them ... this would be it: the weight is off her shoulders. She can play now."

More about this series, including video portraits by the photographer's sister, Marian Lacombe, can be found in this feature article in Financial Times magazine.

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