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Meet Yumna Al-Arashi

By Luke Keleher, 16 May 2017

Yumna Al-Arashi is a writer and photographer, whose recent work has sought to give a voice to Muslim women, with the hope of ending the stereotypes of oppression that are culturally entrenched in their visual representations. Yumna’s latest project will be a series of photos in the traditional bath houses, or hammams, of North Africa and the Middle East. Through her photography and writing, she seeks to give women a voice, and encourage them to take up space. Find out more about her inspirations, aspirations and project below…

Yumna Al-Arashi, writer and photographer | ASOS Supports Talent


My name is Yumna Al-Arashi and I’m a photographer and writer from New York. 

What's your passion project?

It's a continuation of a series of work that I've been doing lately, focused around the Muslim woman, and this project is going to be a series of photos in the traditional bath houses of North Africa and the Middle East called hammams. I want to be showing these as social spaces for women, and I’m trying to recreate the scenes that I've experienced there for my whole life. A lot of this scene was depicted in old art and it was very apparent that women did have public spaces and they existed in other realms aside from just mother, sister or wife. They were social creatures and they still are. It’s just the only imagery of the Muslim woman you see is that of oppression. I'm really interested in ending that.

Why is your passion project important to you?

I've made an effort to create a body of work that truly represents the Muslim woman outside of being oppressed. I feel as though I'm building a puzzle and adding all of the pieces as I go along in time. There's a huge importance for me to take each story that I do and create a larger story of understanding the Muslim woman. I want people to normalise this – they take up just as much space as anybody else and it’s really important to show that, and I'm really excited to be doing that with ASOS.

ASOS Supports Talent Yumna Al Arashi

When did you start taking photos and writing?

When I was 13 years old. It all started with blogging on LiveJournal. I had a bunch of internet friends and I felt really alone a lot when I was growing up in Washington D.C. because 9/11 had just happened and previously I didn't ever identify as anything other than American. Pre 9/11, you never saw yourself as different, even if your parents were born somewhere else. Everyone is the kid of an immigrant in America. 9/11 happened when I was in middle school and I felt super-alone. Having the internet was a really safe space for me – I could find people that I knew who understood me, and I could express myself the way that I wanted to without anybody being able to put a label on me. I was taking photos just for fun and then it started to get pretty interesting, so I started experimenting a lot. I did a lot of self portraiture and it grew into something. The internet was the way I could test out these mediums of writing and also a way of learning about myself and learning my voice and developing this person that I am today. I’m trying to create the momentum to have that voice and turn it back around and show them that this is not just a Muslim artist – this is a person, too, and we can be normal and we can create all the things that we're creating. It doesn't matter where we're from.

ASOS Supports Talent Yumna Al Arashi

What's the ASOS Supports Talent experience been like?

The team I'm working with, and everybody that has been involved in this project so far, is truly caring about the artist and every single time that I've had any concern or any opinion about something, they’ve been there and accommodated. They’ve been super-supportive and I'm really grateful for that. ASOS has given me a ground to really pursue what I want to pursue without any of their influences or their own missions in mind. People will listen to you if you allow the people they care about to have space and to use their voice the way that they want to do it. ASOS has just been like ‘yeah, OK, let's make it happen’.

What does working with ASOS mean for your project?

The ability for them to support me as an artist and really allow me to push to make the contacts I need. That allows me to be the best that I can be in pursuing my project and to be as authentic about it as possible. They just want to allow me to make work – and that's the dream.

What is your greatest achievement so far?

Being comfortable with who I am. I think that that has taken a really long time for me – and once I really grasped that and really loved myself, everything began to fall into place. Once you are fully comfortable in your own skin, with your voice and what you want to do, it will just happen. 

ASOS Supports Talent Yumna Al Arashi

What advice would you give to your peers?

You need to fully embrace all your weird attributes. You need to be 100% yourself and not try to conform to what you see in your social circles, and you just need to completely love every inch of all of the weirdness about you, because that's going to make you succeed in life and make you stand out from everyone else. Also, take some time and really disconnect. It’s the most wonderful thing to not look at your phone for a full day or not really care about social media. Go outside! Take time away from the internet – and this is coming from the biggest internet nerd ever. That's the path to most of my inspiration and that's the reason why I'm sane.

What inspires you?

Women inspire me all the time. Women are my biggest inspiration, and usually not women of my age – usually women from history. I spend most of my time in the library if I’m not working and I read as much as I possibly can – and learn as much as I can, because I don’t think that there's any other way for me to gain as much inspiration as I do by reading. History is super-important, and unless we have a grasp of history, I don’t think that we'll be able to have any direction for steering ourselves into the future. I love music so much, and it definitely gives me the aesthetic for my work, not just the content.