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How Amaal Said is Redefining Beauty through Photography

Curators’ Corner

How Amaal Said is Redefining Beauty through Photography

Danish-born Somali photographer Amaal Said is no stranger to storytelling. A member of the Burn After Reading poetry collective and a former Barbican Young Poet, Said was awarded the 2015 Wasafiri New Writing Prize for poetry and is a familiar face in the London spoken word scene. Her WordPress blog, “Unstitching the Mouth,” features examples of her written work, but when words suddenly failed to capture the essence of her experience while on holiday visiting family in Kenya, Said began taking family portraits and found freedom in letting the photographs share the stories for her.

“Starting off with family members allowed me to ease into it gently,” Said shared with Huffington Post. “It’s important to have people who are gentle with you and who allow you to make mistakes and who trust you to see them as they are.”

As she began gaining confidence behind the camera, Said decided to sit before it. Her striking selfies are colorful, whimsical, and emotive. “I had to widen my understanding of beauty so that I could fit into it,” Said told Vogue. “I’m interested in what we view as beautiful, who is included and left out, and how we choose to interpret and reinterpret it.”

Said wears a hijab, a head wrap or scarf, usually bright in color and paired perfectly with her lipstick and eyeliner. “I love color and I also happen to wear the hijab,” Said shared with Vogue. “I’ve worn a hijab since the age of 9. It’s all I’ve known, which isn’t to say it’s been an easy journey. There have been so many occasions where it’s been hard to keep it on. I wear it for religious purposes, so I noticed that it became harder to wear it when my faith was becoming weaker.”

She added to Huffing Post: “I’m proving my existence in a way. I’ve been incredibly insecure my whole life. That doesn’t go away easily. But I’m keeping a scrapbook now and documenting the bad days too by taking self-portraits. It’s been a form of healing.”

As her Instagram presence grew, Said began reaching out to her followers and fellow artists – mostly women of color – to discuss ideals of beauty and to ask them to sit for her. “[I] mainly photograph women of color because I’m interested in how I can use the work I do to widen representation in anyway I can,” she told Vogue.

Said’s visual expressions of women of color depicting themselves by their own terms and not by what society deems appropriate are helping to broaden the definition of beauty to be a more inclusive state of being rather than an exclusive destination. See some of Said’s stunning portraiture below, and follow her on Instagram for more imagery.

Photos © Amaal Said