Or are you looking for Search the Archives?

Please complete the form to email this item.

Photograph - Aerial IV

Aerial IV

  • Object:


  • Date:

    2011 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Al-Ani, Jananne, born 1966 (artist)

  • Credit Line:

    Purchased with Art Fund support

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level C, case White cupboard

Jananne Al-Ani works in photography, film and video, producing bodies of work that explore conflict, loss and displacement and are informed by her research into Orientalism and often characterised by an interweaving of image and personal testimony.

The video Shadow Sites II (2011) is composed of a series of aerial views intended in part to demonstrate that the desert, which is often presumed to be unoccupied, is in fact inhabited. The title draws upon a phenomenon familiar to archaeologists: when the sun is at its lowest, shadows render visible the remains of settlements that would otherwise be undetectable. As the artist explains, this revelation of visual information can be seen as metaphor for photography itself:

'Only when the sun is at its lowest do the features on the ground, the archaeological sites and settlements come to light. Such ‘shadow sites’ when seen from the air, map the latent images held by the landscape’s surface. Much like a photographic plate, the landscape itself holds the potential to be exposed, thereby revealing the memory of its past.' (Sharmini Pereira, with Jananne Al-Ani, quoted in Issa and Krifa, Arab Photography Now 2011, p. 34)

Although it is Al-Ani’s aim to counter the mythology of the desert’s emptiness—which appears in sources ranging from nineteenth-century Orientalist writing to footage broadcast during the first Gulf War, showing bombs dropping on apparently uninhabited spaces—the images are presented without explanation, and the scale of the landscapes depicted is difficult to interpret. The video slowly zooms in on image after image, allowing the viewer time to scrutinise and decipher; but then another picture appears, presenting a fresh, ambiguous abstraction for contemplation. As a series of still images presented as a video, the work suggests the limitations of still photography.

Al-Ani was born in Iraq to an Iraqi father and Irish mother and moved to the UK in 1980 at the outbreak of the Iran/Iraq war. She attended the Byam Shaw School of Art, London, where she took a Fine Art Diploma in 1986 before studying for a BA in Arabic at the University of Westminster, graduating in 1991. She received an MA in Photography from the Royal College of Art in 1995. She is currently Arts and Humanities Research Council Fellow at the London College of Communication.

Early work focussed on the body (she co-curated the Iniva touring exhibition The Veil, 2003-4). More recently, in part as a response to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, her work has been based on the landscape. She received an AHRC Fellowship in the Creative and Performing Arts for The Aesthetics of Disappearance: A Land Without People (started 2009) a project that resulted in Shadow Sites II (2011).

Al-Ani has an extensive exhibition history since 1987, including solo shows at Arthur M Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institute, Washington DC (2012); Art Now, Tate Britain (2005); Imperial War Museum, London (1999); and a survey exhibition at Darat al Funun, Amman, Jordan (2010). Group exhibitions include all our relations, 18th Biennale of Sydney (2012); The Future of a Promise, Venice Biennale (2011); Women War Artists, Imperial War Museum, London (2011); Closer, Beirut Art Center (2009); The Screen-Eye or the New Image: 100 Ways to rethink the world, Casino Luxembourg (2007); and Without Boundary, Seventeen Ways of Looking, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2006.

A winner of the Abraaj Capital Art Prize in 2011, Al-Ani was the recipient of the EAST International Award (2000), and John Kobal Photographic Portrait Award (1996).

Physical description

An aerial view of the desert showing the structural foundations of a building


2011 (made)


Al-Ani, Jananne, born 1966 (artist)


Height: 460 mm frame, Width: 538 mm framed, Depth: 55 mm framed

Descriptive line

A production still entitled 'Aerial IV' from the film 'Shadow Sites II' by Jananne Al-Ani

Labels and date

Gallery 100 ‘A History of Photography’, 2014-2015, label text:

Jananne Al-Ani (1966 –)
‘Aerial III’, ‘IV’, ‘V’, ‘VI’

These images are taken from Al-Ani’s video Shadow Sites II. The title refers to a phenomenon familiar to archaeologists: when the sun is at its lowest, shadows make visible the remains of otherwise undetectable settlements. As the artist has noted: ‘Much like a photographic plate, the landscape itself holds the potential to be exposed, thereby revealing the memory of its past’.

Digital pigment prints; photography by Adrian Warren
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum
Museum nos. E.21, 22, 23, 24-2014
[06 03 2014]

Production Note

The photographs were printed by Adrian Warren


Photographic paper


Pigment print; Photography


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

Large image request

Please confirm you are using these images within the following terms and conditions, by acknowledging each of the following key points:

Please let us know how you intend to use the images you will be downloading.