Photos of empty Saudi streets illustrate a life lived indoors
Restrictions put on women (not permitted to drive, be in public unveiled or without a chaperone) means manouvering the streets of Saudi Arabia’s cities isn’t easy for the lone female traveller. Simple things taken for granted when visiting other countries – like eating out, visiting a tourist area, cooling down in an outdoor pool – become tricky, or impossible.
Capturing the landscape, culture and the people is also difficult. That’s why Saudi’s first female director Haiffa Al Mansour had to film much of her acclaimed film Wadjda in a van using a walkie-talkie.
For me, exploring Jeddah from the backseat of an air-conditioned, chauffer driven car, using my inconspicuous iPhone to take photos, was a strange experience. The city feels tantalizingly close yet just out of reach.
Then again, it’s hard to escape the feeling that this is how Jeddah’s own inhabitants (or at least half of them) also experience the city in the sand.
Construction sites dominate in a city that is constantly striving to expand urban space and modernise.
Despite being more educated than their male counterparts, and growing numbers joining the workforce, most women in Saudi Arabia do not work outside of the home.
Jeddah’s many designer malls are a place for them to shop, and meet with female friends.
1970s Jeddah was a hotspot for big names in art from Joan Miro to Alexander Calder and Henry Moore. Surreal sculptures dot busy highways. “The direction of Prayer” is a piece by the Spanish architect Julio LaFuente.
Restrictions put on public space for women, and the oppressive desert heat mean the streets of Jeddah are empty apart from certain areas such as the Corniche – which scales the Red Sea for 30 km, and is home to King Fahd’s Fountain – and the Al-Balad, Jeddah’s historic centre.
In the concrete jungle of Jeddah it can be hard to remember you’re never too far away from desert sunsets and sapphire skies.
- Article by Sarah Van Horn