Photography: Yumna Al-Arashi

Yumna Al-Arashi is a London based photographer, filmmaker and writer, who’s work defies conventions and challenges cultural restraints. A woman of Yemeni-American heritage, many of Yumna’s personal projects take inspiration from her roots and explore themes surrounding sexuality, feminism and freedom, often highlighting the misrepresentation of Muslim women in society today. Now based in London, she has worked with a variety of publications and clients, from Apple to ASOS, along with multiple exhibitions taking place across the globe.

Scroll through her Instagram and you’ll find an eclectic mix of nude women and erotic art, aside politically charged captions and women draped in traditional Middle-Eastern dress. This is what Yumna’s work is about; showcasing multiple versions of female freedom and power, and creating a place where they can exist harmoniously.

After meeting Yumna on a recent shoot for Bug Clothing, we sat down with the artist to discuss her work and her thoughts on activism in art.

In your biography, alongside photographer, filmmaker and writer, you reference yourself as a human being. What is the reason for this?

Well, I feel like often times, creatives are exhausted as unlimited resource machines. I also don’t like a lot of the fluff that’s associated with professional interactions. I feel like if we can just be a bit more real and honest with one another, things can unfold more truthfully and smoothly.

Growing up as a Muslim woman in America, have you always embraced your heritage or was there ever a time you felt pressured to hide or change your identity?

I was totally ashamed of my identity when I was young. I felt like I had to be as “American” as possible. I feel that’s something a lot of immigrants face. People telling you to go back to your country when you have an accent, or you don’t dress like them, or have the same customs as them. It was a horrible environment for truly embracing where you’re from and your roots. I’m so glad I had a support system to grow out of that shame.

How does society’s portrayal of Arab women compare with what you are trying to showcase through your personal projects?

One dimensionally!!! The other day I spoke alongside Halima Aden and I couldn’t stop saying how much I’d been waiting for this moment. We always see the muslim woman as a one-dimensional person. Oppressed, hijabi, Arab. But it’s so wrong! We are from everywhere. We have different values, different customs, different cultures, different languages! We are so different from one another, just as every other person would be. I want so badly to share that with the world.

Across your work there is a beautiful contrast between the female nude and women who are covered head to toe. Do you feel that these are polar opposites, or are they part of the same narrative?

For me, they’re part of my narrative. I express myself with my work. I can be all of these things and still be one seamless human being. I can enjoy the nude figure and still be a Muslim woman. They’re not opposites to me. It’s part of one whole conversation.

How would you define activism in art?

Art is a way of speaking to the people. Art can be understood across countries, languages, and cultures. I believe using art to communicate and reflect on the world around us is powerful - that can be activism in itself.

Do you feel that access to the internet and social media has allowed for better political discussion between everyday people?

Absolutely. I’ve received so much from the internet. As much as I love to hate it, it’s an infinite resource.

Having experienced both Western and Middle Eastern cultures, how has this shaped your interpretation of ‘beauty’?

Beauty is not one thing. I’ve seen beauty in all shapes and forms, and can appreciate it on so many levels. I believe western culture really regards beauty as sensuality - which is not necessarily bad, but it also is limiting when we see and appreciate other culture’s beauties. Traveling helps to allow us to see other forms of beauty.

How important is art when it comes to equality?

I think the question is how important equality is when it comes to art. I believe we are only beginning a journey to diversify our art worlds. To hear from all types of voices. We have a huge responsibility to make sure our arts cultures are equal, representative, and fair.

What gives you strength when you face criticism or retaliation against your work?

I remember the support I have from my family and friends. I remember that criticism is good! And helpful.

What message do you hope to send to young women across the world, and more specifically, to young Muslim American women growing up in the current political climate?

I hope I can give them strength to overcome anything that would feel less than capable of doing whatever it is they want in the world. I hope I can inspire.

Browse Yumna’s work online here.

All images: Yumna Al-Arashi

Interview by Phoebe Grace Ede

Share this:

More From The Journal

  1. Join The Team

    ​We’re lucky at Glasshouse Salon to have a small, close-knit team of staff who are passionate about organic hair, beauty and wellbeing. We have a rare opportunity for an organised and unflappable Front of House Manager to join the team during an exciting period of growth.

    Have a read of the job description below and contact us at sarah@glasshousesalon.co.uk with a CV and cover letter to apply. Good luck!

    More +
  2. An Interview with Then & Now Studio

    ​We spoke to Marina South, founder of creative studio Then & Now, about remaining grounded in an increasingly meta-world and carving out space for intuition and creativity in daily life.

    More +
  3. Glasshouse Hosts: Where is My Mind?

    ​You’re invited to our first workshop, exploring health and herbalism with The Herbal One

    More +
  4. An Interview with The Herbal One

    “Accessing alternative medicine can be difficult and costly for number of people, people who also don’t see themselves represented by the image of these practices, and we are really trying to change that by creating a more inclusive space”

    Ahead of their October workshop with Glasshouse, we spoke to London Field’s The Herbal One about what herbal medicine means to them and how they’re carving out a more accessible space for learning and working with herbal remedies.

    More +
  5. Glasshouse by Nature

    Ahead of her Autumn residency with Glasshouse, Emily talks to us from her Tottenham floristry studio, Design by Nature, about what being a creator looks like in the modern world; how she adapts within an ever-changing landscape and incorporates essential values of sustainability into her practice.

    More +
  6. Join the Team

    Fancy being a part of our close-knit Glasshouse team? We are looking for stylists of all levels to come onboard.

    More +
  7. Introducing: Green Salon Collective

    We are excited to be partnering with Green Salon Collective, a circular solution for hard-to-recycle salon waste. Their unique recycling program ensures every piece of salon waste is recycled, recovered or composted. Find out more about how we’re working alongside them.

    More +
  8. The Maskne Solution

    As we grapple with daily life in a protective mask, some of us are feeling the effects on our skin. We share our tips and favourite products to help your skin work with your mask, not against it.

    More +
  9. Bug x Glasshouse Anti-Waste Accessories: Collection #2

    ​We have collaborated with sustainable linen wear brand and Glasshouse friend, Bug Clothing, for a second collection of Anti-Waste Hair Accessories.

    More +
  10. Second Hand September

    ​We speak to the founder of Retold Vintage and look at the new generation of ethically-minded vintage sellers.

    More +
  11. Organic Beauty + Wellbeing Week: Why We’re Embracing Organic

    As we celebrate Organic Beauty + Wellbeing Week 2020, we demystify organic certification and find out what the term means to some of our favourite beauty brands.

    More +
  12. Q&A: Eve Williams of Ede Skincare

    ​We catch up with Eve Williams, the founder of Ede - the latest skincare brand to join the Glasshouse collection. Their handmade products celebrate the age-old practice of aromatherapy, with a 21st century twist.

    More +
  13. Home Colouring with Glasshouse Salon

    As salons remain closed across the country, we know many of you have started wondering what you’re going to do about your pesky roots and eyelash-sweeping fringes. Here, we talk you through the safest options for home colouring - what you should consider and which products might just give you just the temporary solution you’re after.

    More +
  14. Q&A: The Under_Label

    ​During this challenging time for businesses, we are looking to our brilliant community of independent brands. Ethical underwear label, The Under_Label, is one such brand. We sit down with its founder, Jasmine Wickens, to talk about design, ethics and the importance of aesthetics.

    More +
  15. The Glasshouse Guide to Self Care

    ​We’re living through challenging times and it’s easy to forget to check in with our own wellbeing. We’ve compiled some of our favourite products that are perfect for carving out a therapeutic and much-needed self care moment.

    More +
  16. Ancient Beauty Rituals

    ​The time-honoured beauty rituals that still work today are being reimagined for the modern day by the likes of skincare experts such as Guy Morgan. We investigate further…

    More +
Load more posts