Leila Alaoui Biography

French-Moroccan photographer Leila Alaoui created her own travelling studio to shoot the series 'Les Marocains' (The Moroccans) (2014): ultra-detailed and meticulously lit portraits that bring forth her subjects' beauty and dignity.

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About the Artist

Born in Paris and raised in Morocco, Leila Alaoui was an activist-photographer who worked on all sides of the Mediterranean—in Africa, Europe, and the Middle East. She often set up her studio in public places to shoot portraits of vulnerable, marginalised, and misunderstood people. She died at age 33 on 18 January 2016 after a terrorist attack in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, where she was on assignment for an Amnesty International women's rights campaign.

Alaoui's most well-known works include a series of portraits of refugees in Lebanon called 'Natreen (We Wait)' (2013); the video work Crossings (2013), about the journeys of sub-Saharan Africans to Europe; and 'Everyday Heroes of Syria' (2015), portraits of Syrians living in refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq.

Inspired by Robert Frank's 'The Americans' for her series 'Les Marocains' (The Moroccans) (2014), Alaoui travelled the country to capture the ethnic and cultural diversity of Morocco. Giant prints of the resulting photographs were shown at Galleria Continua during Gallery Weekend Beijing in 2019.

'Most Moroccans grow up hearing stories of witchcraft and are often afraid of the "evil eye"', Alaoui told Slate. 'It is commonly believed that one can throw a spell at someone by using his or her photograph. Moroccans are also tired of being photographed by Westerners as "exotic" subjects and have grown to react aggressively towards anyone who wants to photograph them without permission.'

Alaoui studied photography at The City University of New York. She has exhibited at institutions including the Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris; the Malmö Konsthall; the Cascais Citadel Palace in Portugal; and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Her work has also featured in publications including The New York Times and Vogue.

Following her death, both the 6th Marrakech Biennale (2016) and the 2nd Biennial of Photography in the Contemporary Arab World in Paris (2017) were dedicated to Alaoui's memory. Her family also created the Leila Alaoui Foundation in March 2016 to preserve her work, defend her values, and inspire and support artists working to promote human dignity.

Ocula | 2019

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