(roowh) روح , Image 5, 2021

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Portfolio: Photographs

In her photographic series, حب // LOVE (2021), Alia Ali pushes against the forced reorientation of her native tongue in order to reclaim the beauty and nonviolence of the Arabic language. Employing photography, textile, and text, Ali presents various points of entry into notions of exclusion, erasure, and the politicization of the body and language, demonstrating expanded interpretations of the word “love.”

The formal fluctuations in the composition of the word حب question relational power within societal structures. The beginning of the 21st century was marked by the September 11th attacks, the illegal invasion of Iraq, Abu Ghraib, and the media’s binary portrayal of Arabs as villains or victims. Arabic became a signifier for violence to the point that Arabophones refrained from speaking in public in fear of being sequestered for “suspicious behavior.” To protect themselves, people changed their names and children lost their native tongue, leading to the erasure of an entire generation’s stories, heritage, and connection to their roots.

حب // LOVE is an intervention to this pattern, subverting fear through color and light by expanding the capacity of language rather than accepting its limitations. Derived from two letters, ح and ب, which when put together carries multiple meanings, including seed, fruit, affection and love, حب is not static nor is it singular in its meaning or expressions—it is infinite, fluid, and flexible. Ali’s gesture of repeating hand-painted patterns is different each time, demonstrating the endless ways a word can radically alter our thought processes and ways of existing.


راحة (raḥa) – comfort, rest, relief, leisure, repose, ease 
لطف (latf) – kindness, courtesy, gentleness, friendliness, softness, civility
الذات (aldhat) – self, ego, person, essence
تضحية (tadhḥiya) – sacrifice, offering
اختيار (ikhtiyar) – option, choice, preference, liberty
إخلاص (‘ikhlas) – sincerity, dedication, loyalty, devotion, fidelity, honesty
عمل (a’amal) – effort, potential, labor
أصل (asl) – origin, descent, parent, root, ancestry, principle 
روح (roowḥ) – spirit, soul, life, essence



*Archival UV prints on aluminum Dibond. 42 x 28 inches. Edition of 6.