French-Moroccan photographer Leila Alaoui passed away on January 19th at the age of 33. The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced her passing after she had sustained severe injuries from gunshots during a terrorist attack on a restaurant in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Known for her hauntingly beautiful documentary photographs, the artist had been sent to Ouagadougou by Amnesty International to work on a series on women’s rights.
She was born in Paris in 1982 and grew up in Marrakesh before studying at the City University of New York. She spent time in Morocco, Lebanon and the United Emirates where she photographed her subjects in their cultural environment investigating the construction of identity within a culture. Adding a lyrical quality to her images, she never turned her subjects into a cultural index.
Her series The Moroccans, for which Alaoui had stayed in Morocco with different communities, had recently been displayed at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris. She placed a lot of importance on her position as a participant-observer, taking on a hybrid role as a Moroccan insider and an outside documentarian. It is as such that she was able to take portraits of the country’s inhabitants in their natural costume without Orientalizing them and thus counteracting the colonial North-Western view of North Africa and the Middle East.
Alaoui’s work has been displayed at the Institut du Monde Arabe, Art Dubai and most recently she participated in the Biennial of Photography in the Contemporary Arab World, the first contemporary Arab photography festival, which recently closed in Paris this year. Through the work she left behind, we endeavor to recover through her greatest message: HOPE.