Artist Profile: Jananne Al-Ani

1 December 2020

Jananne Al-Ani’s photograph series Untitled, 1998 is included in the National Partners Programme exhibition My name is not Refugee at Firstsite, Colchester.

Over the past year a group of refugees and asylum seekers have worked together with Firstsite staff and Refugee Action Colchester to create an exhibition of artworks from the Arts Council Collection. 

My name is not Refugee is an opportunity to see past the label of ‘refugee’ and, whilst acknowledging the conflict or trauma which may have been experienced, instead focus on the lives of the contributors before and after arriving in the UK. The exhibition reveals commonalities between visitors to the exhibition and the first-time curators, creating a greater understanding about our community, finding out what we all share and how we are all connected.

Jananne- Al-Ani is an artist, researcher and lecturer who works with photography, film and video, initially beginning her career as a painter. Her work often features members of her immediate family and explores the power of testimony and the documentary tradition, through intimate recollections of absence and loss in contrast with official accounts of historic events.

Her early photographic work explores issues of gender, politics and the representation of women within a historical narrative of colonialism, especially the fetished veiled body of Middle Eastern and North African women in Orientalist paintings and photographs, as seen in the work Untitled, 1998. Adopting the conventions of early photographic studio portraiture, the five women of Al-Ani’s family (the artist herself, her mother and her sisters) are formally posed in this group portrait, dressed in traditional Arabic and Westen clothing.



Explaining the context around this work, Al-Ani states “My interest in Orientalism was the beginning of a long process of re-examining my cultural identity which I was brought face to face with in 1991 with the outbreak of war in the Gulf. The issues at the heart of the relationship between East and West are the ones that interest me and inform my work... I am particularly interested in the studio portraits, which range from the ethnographic to the pornographic, and the theatrical use of backdrops, props and costumes in the construction of fantastic tableaux exploring the Western fascination with the Veil.”



The work explores the notion of the camera as a tool for control and power while challenging the power dynamic between the female subjects and the viewer/photographer. All five women in both images stand straight and look directly at the camera, returning our gaze. Al-Ani challenges the common misrepresentations in Western media and perception of asylum seekers, particularly the portrayal of women. She prompts audiences to consider the cultural relationship between the East and West in a post-colonial era - what has really changed? - and to recognise that underneath, we are the same.

My name is not Refugee has been curated by Elizabeth Curry, Münevver Gülsen Ülker, Samia, Diego Robirosa and Mr and Mrs Al-Chahin, working together with many more clients and volunteers from Refugee Action-Colchester. 

The exhibition is on view from 03 December 2020 - 21 February 2021 at Firstsite, Colchester as part of the National Partners Programme.


The Arts Council Collection is the UK's most widely seen collection of modern and contemporary art.

With more than 8,000 works by over 2,000 artists, it can be seen in exhibitions and public displays across the country and beyond. This website offers unprecedented access to the Collection, and information about each work can be found on this site.