Meet Our Members: Serah Alabi
WE Int., committed to lifting up women and shedding light on their work, introduces its members as part of the series #SheInspires. In this article, we introduce to you Serah Alabi, a photographer with a deep understanding of gendered gaze in visual arts.
Born in Nigeria and grew up in Germany, she recently completed her masters program at Bunka Gakuen University and currently work as freelance writer/photographer in Tokyo.
1.Tell us about yourself. What is your passion? What is the background you grew up in?
My family made the big move from Nigeria to Germany when I was around four-five years old.
The city I grew up in west Germany was fairly new to African immigrants, which resulted in me being the only coloured girl in my entire school. The creative space always had a strong appeal to me, because it allowed me to fully embrace every step towards my journey, be it playing different instruments, drawing, writing my first short stories as a teenager or picking up the art of capturing memorable moments in time.
2. Could you talk about your specialty? What do you try to express/convey?
Photography is part of my creative practice and language, that defines the relationship between individuality sensory engagement. For me photographs do not only operate on a visual level, but have the ability to occupy the spaces bounded by emotional impact and semiotic codes. Photography is a medium of storytelling and shifting relationships through which meaning and purpose are created. I want my photos to not only represent the person but evoke sensibilities of the past, present and future. In a time where the material and embodied experiences are constantly changing with the inventions of new digital communities across the globe, I want to convey an alternative way at looking at the social inscriptions of images within gender studies and art historical background.
3. How did you become interested in gender issues?
I hadn’t realized I was particularly interested in gender studies until I was deep into my Master thesis, which was an investigation of the female gaze in Japan through the eyes from Japanese female photographers. I looked at the female gaze as a diverse visual landscape, a window for the feminine experience and its uniqueness as a transnational culture. I wrote my first research paper as a teenager on Jeanne D’arc, investigating her life as a martyr and the question of her identity as a saint and heroin. I remember how fascinated I was with historic female figures and with the impact they had over the centuries.
For me photographs do not only operate on a visual level, but have the ability to occupy the spaces bounded by emotional impact and semiotic codes. I want my photos to not only represent the person but evoke sensibilities of the past, present and future
4. What gender-related issue(s) are you most interested in and why?
My interest lies in analyzing women’s role in visual and cultural studies. I studied Fashion Journalism for my B.A degree, and during that time I merged my interest for gender, research and media. I started looking at different angles on how women are perceived in the visual landscape of fashion, art, and culture. It is important to visually critique and analyze how women are portrayed in mass media. Since then, I discussed the objectification of women in fashion and beauty advertising, the restrictive notion of their stereotypical portrayal by men in media and the impact visual media has on the social construction of gender. We are living in an sensory era where we are easily influenced by the media and brands.
5. How do you see the status of women in Japanese society (compared to Germany or other cultures you know)?
Germany was ranked 10th in last years gender gap report and Japan was placed 121st out of 154 countries. Even though there is an immerse gap, both countries share similarities when it comes to employment policies. Focusing on characteristics such as age, work experience and education during their hiring process. Whereas Germany is updating their corporate policies to match today’s zeitgeist, Japan is sticking to its lifetime system. Each country brings with them a diverse set of cultural differences. What I believe we have to do is to recognize the differences and learn to respect each countries values and status. What we can not do is forcing one country's conditions to another. Instead, we should focus on slowly introducing adapt-friendly policies to help grow the economic position of men and women. In order to narrow the gender gap, we first have to highlight different institutional scenarios to promote gender equality in both countries.
I started looking at different angles on how women are perceived in the visual landscape of fashion, art, and culture. It is important to visually critique and analyze how women are portrayed in mass media.
6. Through WE Int. platform, what would you like to achieve? How do you think you can benefit from/contribute to WE Int.?
I bring in the art historical aspect of gender studies to WE Int., widening the conversation in able to include thematics that may have not been discussed. Yet this is how I also benefit from WE Int., being exposed to differences members who are focused on a specific specialty within gender studies. By widening the exchange of views on gender-related issues, I would like to be part of a progress WE Int. will make in the future.