An individual will never really know what his or her face looks like to the rest of the world. For better or worse we rely on other people to show us our physical selves. Lovers write sonnets praising the beauty in our faces. Friends tell the stories that lie behind our smiles. And as for strangers, enemies, or anyone else who doesn't know how to appreciate our countenance?

Mainstream Western media does not often portray Arab communities through lenses unclouded by terrorist suspicion or the politics of war. Think about the faces of Arab women and men presented in newspapers, during television news, and on movie screens. Those images, generic and iconic, do not resemble a family photo album; they are usually selected to represent some form of conlict.

Mapping Sitting: On Portraiture and Photography brings control over Arab identity back home. This photo collection, conceived by artists Walid Raad and Akram Zaatari and presented by the Arab Image Foundation, includes images from Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq, Palestine, and Jordan, taken between the 1920s and 1970s. Four styles of portraiture--passport, group, "photo surprise," and itinerant--are used to convey everyday living in Middle Eastern communities.

Mapping Sitting is both a book and a traveling exhibition. It has toured internationally through more than ten cities, with the most recent showing in Manhattan at New York University's Grey Art Gallery. The exhibition is currently showing through June 5th at the Krannert Art Museum in Champaign, Illinois.

The full Mapping Sitting collection contains 905 images. We have published twelve.

All photographs and text copyright © 2005 Theo Rigby