Manal Abu-Shaheen (b. 1982, Beirut) is a Lebanese-American photographer currently living and working in Queens, NY. Her recent solo exhibitions include Theater of Dreams, Bernstein Gallery, Princeton University, NJ (2018), Beta World City, LORD LUDD, Philadelphia, PA (2017) and Familiar Stranger, A.I.R. Gallery, Brooklyn, NY (2017). Her work has been included in group exhibitions at The Society of Korean Photography, Seoul, Korea (2017); Queens Museum, Queens, NY (2016); The Center for Fine Art Photography, Fort Collins, CO (2016); The Bronx Museum of the Arts, Bronx, NY (2015); The Print Shop at MoMA PS1, Queens, NY (2014); and Camera Club of New York, NY (2013). She is a recipient of the Aaron Siskind Foundation Individual Photographer’s Fellowship Grant (2017), Jerome Foundation Travel and Study Grant (2017), Lower Manhattan Cultural Council Workspace Residency (2016), A.I.R Gallery Fellowship (2016), and Artist in the Marketplace Residency at the Bronx Museum of the Arts (2015). Abu-Shaheen holds a B.A from Sarah Lawrence College and an M.F.A in Photography from Yale School of Art. She teaches at The City College of New York.
My recent work focuses on the ways in which globalized communication brings idealized images from one culture in contact with the realities of another. Motivated by a lack of visual history of the landscape in Lebanon, I am building my own photographic archive of what Beirut looks like today: a city dominated by billboards. In one sense the advertisements serve as a visualized end energizing capitalist growth, and in another they purport a mythologized western ideal that is incongruous in the post-conflict city. The advertisements and pervasive neo-liberal capital represent our most recent form of colonialism. What is new and fascinating about this system is that it employs images as its most powerful tool. This under-documented place is now occupied by images of a different place and people.
The unique landscape that has resulted from the dominance of the automobile industry in the United States is the subject of Fuel. The homogeneity of strip mall architecture growing out of a culture that prioritizes individual identity is distinctly American. Commercial connector roads, rest stops, and gas stations are the locations where I photograph the architecture and culture of the American strip. I spend hours alone observing the strange rhythm created by these spaces, which are characterized by transient consumption – where the consumption of products is not necessarily the end but an odd and sometimes required part of getting from point A to B. Weary travelers, distracted workers, intense color, and signage define the everywhere/nowhere geography.
Since 2008 I have photographed my brother's family. Jerry is a single father raising two kids on a farm in Pennsylvania. I am interested in his background as a Lebanese-American man who has adopted the American homesteader lifestyle. This is an ongoing project as I document his efforts to become self-sufficient.