The Powerful Message Behind Marta Lamovsek's Photographs

BY Ayesha Sohail Shehmir Shaikh / Jun 17 2020 / 10:00 AM

Slovenian-born famed photographer Marta Lamovsek is on a mission to bring unity in a world of rising segregation

The Powerful Message Behind Marta Lamovsek's Photographs
A self-portrait of Marta Lamovsek. 2020. Captured during self-isolation.

The art of materialising an individual’s beauty and strength is renowned Dubai-based photographer and visual artist Marta Lamovsek’s forte. Born and raised in the countryside of Yugoslavia before the collapse, the self-taught photographer attributes her limitless career to mere serendipity.

“When I was 22 and still confused with what I want to become, I suddenly saw a framed photograph on the wall of the coffee shop where I sat with a friend,” recalls Lamovsek.

“In that one moment, I knew that my life purpose is to be a photographer.” A week later, she became the owner of her first camera. Centred on destroying cultural barriers and forming trust between strangers, Lamovsek’s mantra today is, ‘It can be uncomfortable yet at the same time beautiful to connect with strangers’.

Marta Lamovsek. Ashiq the Rockstar. 2018. Plastic Garden series, Dubai

“Imagine you are walking on a street full of people,” she proposes. “You decide to start a conversation with a random human of the opposite gender, with a language barrier between you and him and a cultural landscape poles apart. Yet within the next five minutes, you somehow manage to convince them to come with you to your house studio to be photographed in a way where both of you are vulnerable to each other. When we break the invisible cultural barriers and establish trust, there is one thing that comes out of it: a beautiful feeling of connectedness that is at the core of who we are as human beings.”

Over the last two decades, Lamovsek has joined hands with some of the most prestigious creative professionals, visual artists and fashion houses by the likes of Burberry, Dior and Tom Ford. Most notable to her is British fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, admired for her bid to raise climate change awareness.

“Ten years ago when I first met Vivienne at her show in London and as I worked for her, she was doing it already with her climate revolution and everyone was tired of her: when reporters were asking her about the newest fashion, she was instead promoting her clothes, telling everyone we must save our planet and this is how,” says Lamovsek. “I saw this with my own eyes and not only once. And she was so right.”

Marta Lamovsek. Queen Of The Ball. 2020. From Iconbooth

Lamovsek has held installations at Art Dubai over the last three years, group shows and pop-ups in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. During Dubai Design District’s 2017 Blue Cave Urban Festival, the photographer held a solo exhibition entitled Plastic Garden, shining a light and paying respect to her subjects comprising Pakistani gardeners and labourers living in Satwa, Dubai.

“I will continue the tributes of the heroes of Dubai, Pakistani workers, who for me represent kindness, dignity, a good heart and humbleness,” expresses Lamovsek. Presently, her pieces are on view at the Alserkal Cultural Foundation in Al Bastakiya, Dubai’s oldest standing neighbourhood.

During self-isolation, Lamovsek has taken to self-portraiture, noting inspiration from the late American artist and protégé of Salvador Dalí, Steven Arnold. “I felt very connected to the way he was making his art as a way to heal from the social madness that was surrounding him,” explains Lamovsek. “Being in quarantine, I developed meditation practice and I felt the recognition that my home is my temple – that’s how the idea about self-portraits came about.”First launched two years ago in 2018, Lamovsek’s installation entitled Iconbooth is known for capturing the exuberance of Middle Eastern street life in the UAE through a do-it-yourself concept. Inspired by the rich cultural diversity of Dubai, the project is intended to promote cultural equality first and foremost, blurring the subtle differences which divide us. “This pandemic has given us a test that the world must come together as one,” says Lamovsek. “The question is, are we listening?”

Marta Lamovsek. Portrait of Satwa gardener Imran. 2017. Plastic Garden Series

Through mixing and matching collected artefacts and materials from various cultural landscapes, Lamovsek forms a new character which doesn’t belong to any specific culture, yet represents them all. For instance, in one work an Emirati woman can be seen wearing an Afghani man’s hat, and in another a Lebanese male is wearing an Indian woman’s nose ring.

“It’s many things in one, a promotion of sustainability, DIY culture, freedom of expression, giving back to craftsmanship of different countries by collecting the items which are constantly recycled and reused in the portraits,” she explains.

“One important aspect is also its gender-neutral position, which I think is a powerful aspect. Masculinity and femininity in my project are in perfect balance. Also, Iconbooth embraces every nationality, race and class equally – with freedom of expression. There’s no fear or judgment. Only love.”

Marta Lamovsek. Tarek’s Tribute at Satwa. 2019. Analogue collage, mixed media, pasted on the street, photographed. Limited edition 1/10 archival art matte print. 71cmx49cm

Since the beginning of the project, Lamovsek has garnered over 700 portraits, hoping the progress of subverting at least some stereotypes common in the region has been made. “And beyond all,” she expresses, “I believe and have gratefully witnessed the project has healing powers and is empowering and elevating spirits. A woman wearing handmade accessories and fabric becomes a warrior with immense power, for example. It’s not a fiction what I’m doing, I’m just pointing out to the power that it is already there.”

Perhaps the photographer’s most admirable trait is the ability to capture a subject’s soul on camera, to sense a person’s truth. “I feel it in my gut when their souls unveil,” she expresses.

So what inspires the gifted creative the most? “Enlightened human spirit,” Lamovsek answers. “I’m immensely inspired by human compassion, grace, balance and an open heart. I’m naturally driven to study spiritual practices and a way to higher enlightenment. The purpose of humanity is to evolve.”

By empowering and bringing out the best version of her subjects on camera, Lamovsek hopes to bring out the best in the world. Driven to celebrate individuality and virtues such as compassion, dignity, humility, grace, courage and care for Mother Nature, ultimately, her vibrant, mesmerising photographs are here to deliver one beautiful message: “We. Are. All. One.”

All images courtesy of Marta Lamovsek

From the summer 2020 issue of Harper's Bazaar Art