HomeFashionA Double View of the World from Inside Mosques

A Double View of the World from Inside Mosques


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Marwan Bassiouni’s photographs in “New Western Views” capture two places at once. Each picture in the series was taken inside a mosque, with the camera pointing toward the windows to reveal the buildings or landscapes beyond. But the pictures give equal weight to the interiors of the mosques themselves, which might be colorful or muted, ornate or spare. Bassiouni began the series in the Netherlands, in 2018, touring the country to visit some seventy mosques while attending art school in the Hague. (A book of those images, “New Dutch Views,” was published in 2019.) Two years ago, he expanded his travels to the United Kingdom and Switzerland. Bassiouni told me recently that he sees the project as an act of portraiture. “I’m photographing spaces that, in a way, have a soul,” he said.

Bassiouni was born in Switzerland, in 1985, to an Egyptian father and an American mother. The nearest mosque was about thirty minutes away, in Geneva—he visited twice a year during Eid and for the occasional Friday prayers. He was not a practicing Muslim until the age of twenty-four, around the time that his interest in photography began. He was working in a restaurant at a ski resort, in the Swiss Alps, and living on its premises. Left alone each evening at the top of the mountain after the other employees left, he began photographing the view with his three-megapixel phone camera. Later, he assisted a commercial photographer on fashion shoots, and then worked as a documentary filmmaker for a human-rights organization focussed on the Middle East, a gig that coincided with the Arab Spring. In making photographs that simultaneously depict both the inside of mosques and their outside environments, he was interested in engaging with popular perceptions of Islam. In the easily suggestible Western imagination, the mosque has often been cast as a site of sinister machinations. Bassiouni’s images offer an alternative gaze from within, with the windows of the prayer rooms providing an unfamiliar framing for ordinary sights: a row of suburban houses; the parking lot of a supermarket, flanked by a red bus in London; looming apartment towers; a sports pitch; a highway; a church.

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