Preparing Henna for a Wedding

By Umayyah Cable

San Francisco, California, USA

Preparing Henna for a Wedding

ABOUT THIS PIECE: To most Americans, Palestine is a place that simply does not exist—yet exists enough to produce a faceless or generic enemy. A dangerous and unwelcoming land, a breeding ground for fundamentalist Islam, teeming with angry anti-American Jihadists, Palestine is, in the American imagination, a landscape devoid of culture and joy. Or at least this is what the dominant political ideologues of the Western superpowers want the world to believe. Growing up half-Palestinian in the United States I have been fighting to disprove these assumptions my entire life. Whether trying to reassure my peers in childhood that my family is not composed of terrorists, or repeatedly having to explain the difference between Palestine and Pakistan, not a week has gone by in my life in which I do not have to clarify misnomers regarding my heritage. In many ways this project is a labor of love with regards to my personal struggle with my identity, as well as an homage to my family and community.

As a Palestinian American I am in a unique position to produce imagery that can dispel much of the misinformation and half-formed beliefs that circulate about Palestine and the Palestinian people. In documenting daily life under the Israeli Occupation, I produced images of the West Bank that are a testament to the Palestinian people themselves, as well as to the broken land that they desperately try to maintain. These photographs are about family, geography, childhood, food and faith. They are about maintaining normalcy in the midst of strife and grief and in doing so these photographs create a document of cultural survival. Palestine is a landscape bursting with open faces, faces that are eager to tell their stories of pain and devastation, but most importantly, their stories of hope. It is these faces that will tell the greatest story of Palestine and I seek to preserve them in photographic history. In addition, it is my hope that the dissemination of the Palestinian story will foster greater global support for a Palestinian state and therefore promote a lasting peace.

And yet, these photographs stray from the traditional tract of imagery produced in present day photojournalism, mainly because they are lacking in overt political expression. I did not photograph political groups, demonstrations, protests, or stone throwing scrimmages. I did not photograph activity surrounding Hamas, Fatah, or any other political organizations. I did not photograph the Intifada. On the contrary, I chose a more domestic and intimate approach towards Palestinians living under occupation so that the humanity of this population can be seen without the controversial politics obstructing the viewer’s opinion. I chose people over politics in the hope that the messages of social justice and equality will ring truer than those of ideology or bigotry.

It is my hope that the continued creation of beautiful and positive images of Palestine and Palestinians will help westerners to see that this population is not solely composed of suicide bombers and fundamentalists, but that these are a people who are proud of their cultural traditions, and are struggling to maintain them along with their dignity. That these people, demonized and rejected by the world for so long, are capable and worthy of great amounts of beauty. I seek to correct the myths about Palestine and Palestinians by revealing the lives of the people who are surviving within this disputed, cherished, and ravaged geography.

ABOUT THE ARTIST: Umayyah Cable was born in Cambridge, MA and raised by a single Palestinian mother at a time when it was more politically correct than not to consider Palestinians as terrorists and enemies of the United States. She attended Smith College where she chose mind over heart in her decision to major in American Studies instead of fine arts. This proved to fuel her photographic passion more so than hindering it because it armed her with the knowledge she needed in order to challenge the status quo. While at Smith she studied with Meridel Rubenstein for two years, while Rubenstein was a visiting faculty member. Upon graduating from Smith in 2005, Cable resumed her first love of photography and has been freelancing in the San Francisco Bay Area since 2006. Aside from her Palestine project, Cable’s photography mainly consists of portraiture in both color and black and white. Additionally, she will return to Palestine in late 2008 to begin a portrait catalog of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation. She self defines as a queer Palestinian feminist activist and her weapon of choice is and always will be (photographic) film. In her spare time she enjoys playing the ukulele (or as she prefers, “the people’s guitar”) and riding her bicycle around the city. To view more of her work, please visit her website at

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