The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

In the galleries: Contemporary images cast a striking new light on the Arab world

Sama Alshaibi’s “Sisila,” 2013, on view through Dec. 16 in “Tribe: Contemporary Photography From the Arab World,” at the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center. (Sama Alshaibi/Katzen Arts Center)

The region depicted in “Tribe: Contemporary Photography From the Arab World” is not the one usually shown on the news. Compiled from work featured in Tribe, a Dubai art magazine founded in 2015, the exhibition at the American University Museum presents a culture that’s modern, venturesome and, well, rich. There are few documentary or naturalistic pictures. Instead, the images have a surreal or theatrical feel, feature bright and artificial-looking colors, and are often digitally altered or composited.

The survey includes photos (and a few videos) by more than 50 artists from or rooted in the Middle East and North Africa. They employ, but often tweak, traditional clothing, architecture and decorative motifs. Designs are superimposed over people, and people become designs: Hazern Mahdy draws a stylized pattern — perhaps flower, perhaps flame — from hundreds of his superimposed arm movements.

Similar in technique, if not result, is Mohammed Al Shammarey’s ingenious “Selfie,” which fills a room with multiples of the artist in a white robe and headdress. The effect is ghostly, but one of the duplicates reveals his eyes and, thus, his humanity.

As might be expected, the status of women is a recurring theme. Shaikha Al Ketbi portrays a woman in colorful dress and jewelry who happens to be underwater, outfitted with a veil rather than snorkeling gear. A black-clad female silhouette contorts herself within a white circle, representing convention and expectation, in a series by Ebtisam Abdulaziz, a Washington-based Emirati. Arwa Alneami’s ironic vision of fun populates the cars on a Ferris wheel with shapes hidden in black chadors.

The women are veiled but dressed in flashy polka-dot gowns in one of the nearly life-size photos of Hassan Hajjaj’s “My Rock Stars” series. Hajjaj dresses and poses his subjects, then edges the pictures with 3-D borders of either indigenous crafts or globalized commerce. Two of the portraits are bordered by cola or tomato sauce cans, a nod to Andy Warhol.

Affluence is proclaimed in studies of large modern structures, including football stadiums and a remarkably clean oil-field mechanism. Less auspicious are the few pictures of war devastation. In “Pokémon Go in Syria Part I,” Khaled Akil appends a cartoon creature to a ravaged cityscape. In technique and outlook, the photo-collage seems typical of “Tribe.” Rather than dispel the horrors of war, however, the picture merely demonstrates the limits of irony.

Tribe: Contemporary Photography From the Arab World Through Dec. 16 at the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center, 4400 Massachusetts Ave. NW.

Kaitlin Jencso & IberoAmerican Women

No backstory is necessary to understand that Kaitlin Jencso’s “Disenchanted” is a meditation on absence. The D.C. artist’s photographic suite at IA&A at Hillyer depicts her Southern Maryland family, but about half of the pictures are uninhabited. The ones that do portray people often hide or cut off their faces. Only one subject, a young woman, looks at the camera.

The theme of Jencso’s photos is a family that’s mourning and unraveling after the deaths of two of its members. The palette is muted and shadowy, and sometimes limited to proximate tones, as in a picture of a maroon garment on a bedspread that’s almost the same color. The lack of variety suggests existence that’s become routine, without surprise or delight. Yet there’s a quiet beauty to the photos’ delicate, natural light. It could even be called enchanted.

Also at IA&A, “Women Who Make IberoAmerica: Power Behind the Everyday” features environmental portraits by photographers from 14 countries in Latin America, as well as Spain and Portugal. Although the subjects include several peasant textile workers, the emphasis is on women who have pursued untraditional careers. Pictured are a ship captain, a truck driver and El Salvador’s first female medical school graduate. Most gaze directly at the lens.

The show includes Roberto Candia’s portrait of a largely toothless Chilean weaver, the only black-and-white shot, and Guilherne Pupo’s depiction of a Brazilian architect lying at the center of a plaza with a circular design. One is intimate and the other detached, but both photos neatly place their subjects in a telling context.

Kaitlin Jencso: Disenchanted and Women Who Make IberoAmerica: Power Behind the Everyday Through Dec. 15 at IA&A at Hillyer, 9 Hillyer Ct. NW.

Photo Slam& Marketa Jirouskova

Even in the digital age, a photography competition can’t be as spontaneous as a spoken-word tournament. Photoworks does try to boost the crowd’s adrenaline with its annual “Photo Slam” events, but there’s nothing impromptu about the work of the winners of the eighth bout, now on display at the organization’s Glen Echo home. Indeed, the pictures emphasize duration, whether of nature, culture or an individual event.

That last category belongs to Clint Everett Fenning, who documents his wife’s 2 1 / 2 .- -day labor and childbirth in quiet, discreet images. Eternal landscapes are observed by Michael Horan, whose subject is Iceland, and by Kathyrn Mohrman, who submitted a single panorama of puzzle-like rice terraces in China. In that view, sunlight turns the water to platinum; in Horan’s pictures, the glare can appear pink, orange or blue, and the icy, translucent expanse resembles a world of glass.

Nestor Ares Cortes, who took first place, uses mostly black-and-white to convey the dark rituals of Mexico’s Day of the Dead. Yet the most potent photos are the two in color, notably one in which an older woman lights a candle on a grave. Illuminated by a half-dozen light sources, the scene glows with tiny stabs against the night.

For “Journeys,” Marketa Jirouskova traveled to places where people arrive by helicopter and icebreaker. Both those conveyances can be glimpsed in her Park View Gallery show, but the Czech-Dutch-American photographer doesn’t display much interest in humans.

Shooting in the Arctic, Antarctica, Oceania and the Himalayas, Jirouskova captures impressive portraits of penguins, polar bears and marine iguanas. While ice and water yield blues as vivid as those in Horan’s landscapes, the most striking pictures are seemingly up-close: a Galapagos mockingbird with fluffed wings or a Waddell seal that glances at the viewer. However long the lens, the results appear familiar.

Photo Slam Through Dec. 9 at Photoworks, Glen Echo Park, 7300 MacArthur Blvd., Glen Echo. Journeys: Marketa Jirouskova Through Dec. 29 at Park View Gallery, Glen Echo Park, 7300 MacArthur Blvd., Glen Echo.