In 2015 photographer Jason Ashwood and campaigner Dr Leyla Hussein OBE started The Face of Defiance, a portrait project which sought to empower survivors of female genital mutilation (FGM). Within three years it had been exhibited in London and the National Portrait Gallery, New York, Washington DC and Dakar in Senegal. It featured in a variety of media as well as Leyla’s presentations at the Oslo Freedom Forum.
FGM is the cutting or sewing together of a woman’s genital organs. This tradition is embedded in many African and Asian communities and driven by community views on chastity, control and perceptions of womanhood. Globally, over 200 million women have suffered FGM, including in the Western world, where community pressures on mothers, to subject their children to FGM, often persist. FGM often causes lifelong pain, gynaecological complications and sometimes the death of the child, or the affected mother during childbirth. Campaigns to end FGM persist in many countries, supported by governments, NGOs and grass roots campaigners.
Jason and Leyla, herself a survivor of FGM, aimed to create a project which would influence the narrative about how survivors were portrayed. Through this project Leyla and Jason wanted to promote the ladies as survivors – strong and vibrant women who, through their own positive examples, could empower others to speak out against FGM in their own communities.
Working with a broad range of survivors, their children, male campaigners and former ‘cutters’ (who performed FGM and now campaign against it), Jason created some 40 final portraits, three of which were acquired by the National Portrait Gallery.
The Camera Club invited Jason to exhibit twelve of his portraits from this project and give a talk about how he undertook this, his first major portrait project, and what he learnt from that journey. It will be accompanied by a digital exhibition of his broader work from the project.