Green House conversations – Maha Al Asaker

Maha Al-Asaker is a freelance photographer and visual artist who explores a wide range of topics using various mediums and materials. Starting off as a photographer in 2006; now her interests has expanded to textiles, embroidery, natural dye, and weaving.

Have you always known you wanted to be an artist?

No… I never know what I want to do, and I still have questions. I graduated as an industrial engineer and I have an MBA. I worked in investments and I was good at it, but I didn’t like it.

So instead I started to experiment with art, and it satisfied my curiosity.

Just last week my mom was showing me all these drawings I made when I was in kindergarten and elementary school, and they were like very detailed. It’s so funny because it’s just like my style now. 

When it comes to your art, what are the main topics that concern you?

My subject matter is women, culture, and religion and how these three evolve and affect each other. Growing up I always had these questions in my head about things that didn’t make sense to me. I used to question a lot, and when I didn’t get answers, I started to observe things and eventually, I started exploring these topics with art.

What’s your approach when it comes to your commercial work?

When it comes to my commercial work, I try to focus on story telling. I like to understand the brand, what kind of values they have, who’s their target audience.

I mean shooting is the easiest part but creating the visual and finding references is the hardest thing to do. I always ask the clients for references of what they have in mind… because you can describe in words, but I can’t see what you’re seeing, because your references are different than mine.

What kind of challenges do you face working as a freelance photographer?

Since I came back from New York, a lot of things have changed in Kuwait including the market. To be honest, I didn’t see a lot of change in the style of photography. And sometimes, you have to be a teacher to the client to make sure they understand how things work. A lot of people think “ah just grab the camera”, “hold the light”, they don’t understand that it’s a whole production.

It’s also been challenging to find a team. For example, I still haven’t found a prop stylist or a stylist for still light. I know how to put things together but having a team would make it more efficient.

What are the things you find exciting about coming back to Kuwait?

It’s a young country, so there’s a lot of young energy and entrepreneurship and things are constantly in the making. I love to be in the process of making, because that’s the fun.

When you work with an established brand, they understand everything about their brand and it’s more of continuing the vision. On the other hand, the uncertainly that comes with working with a brand in the making, it challenges you to make better work. 

Maha has recently published a photography book called “Women of Kuwait”, a book that celebrates what it is to be a modern Kuwaiti woman.