Abdo Shanan’s debut book is an excavation of the artist’s experience of identity and belonging

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This article is printed in the latest issue of British Journal of Photography magazine: Ones to Watch, available to buy at thebjpshop.com.

“I want to make you feel uncomfortable and uneasy. I want you to doubt everything you’ve been told about national identity and what it means to ‘belong’”

Abdo Shanan’s debut photobook, Dry, is intensely personal. Designed by Roi Saade, and accompanied by a separate booklet of extracts from Karima Lazali’s publication Colonial Trauma: A Study of the Psychic and Political Consequences of Colonial Oppression in Algeria, it is an excavation of the artist’s experience of identity and belonging.

Shanan was born in Algeria to an Algerian mother and a Sudanese father, with the family moving to Libya nine years later. “I then spent 18 years convincing myself I was Algerian, while my father insisted I was Sudanese,” writes Shanan, who, aged 28, finally decided to make Algeria his home.

However, after moving there, he questioned his notion of belonging. “How is it possible for an island to exist in the middle of an ocean?” he wonders, likening his experience to an isolated enclave, one surrounded by a society he didn’t identify with as much as he had once thought.

Shanan extends this metaphor to Dry’s other protagonists, who are pictured throughout accompanied by short, poignant quotes. Lamia, for instance, left Algeria for France aged six, visiting each summer until she reached adulthood, and M’mmar will only return to Algeria to die.

Although the book centres on the North African country, it is ultimately universal, endeavouring to incite reflection on these themes by readers regardless of their history. As Shanan articulates: “I want to make you feel uncomfortable and uneasy. I want you to doubt everything you’ve been told about national identity and what it means to ‘belong’.”

Dry by Abdo Shanan is self-published with support from La Chambre Claire.