by Kirsten Rian

Published on 05/15/ 2013

Widad Yagoub Ibrahim

Vice Chairperson and Managing Director, Bee Petroleum Company
Arab Domains
Khartoum, Sudan
26 May 2005 (left), 28 May 2005 (right)

“For diverse reasons, and with the differences entailed by poetic shadings, this is eulogized space,” renowned French philosopher Gaston Bachelard wrote in his seminal book The Poetics of Space.

Her Excellency Lujaina Mohsin Darwish
Joint Deputy Managing Director, Mohsin Haider Darwish LLC
Arab Domains
Muscat, Sultanate of Oman
13 April 2006

Jacqueline Hassink’s project, Arab Domains, was short-listed for the prestigious Prix Pictet. In this body of work, the photos present boardroom tables of Arab international companies juxtaposed as diptychs with the home dining room tables of executives from these companies.

Mouna Bassaleh
Owner and President, Multipharma Scientific Office
Arab Domains
Damascus, Syria
14 February 2005

All of the 36 senior executives profiled are women of Arab nationality. They hail from 18 Arab countries: Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Palestinian Territories, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. While the compositions are void of people, these photographs are decidedly about human nature. An undercurrent flows through the collection of images, carrying with it all the symbolism and iconography the table embodies.

While the compositions are void of people, these photographs are decidedly about human nature.

Elham M. Zeadat
General Manager and Owner, BLOOM Dead Sea Gift Enterprise
Arab Domains
Amman, Jordan
11 February 2005

And to this end, “the aesthetics of hidden things,” as Bachelard coined, those intangibles that separate intimate, lived-in spaces from the formal work environment of an office, are discussed in Arab Domains. The abstracts — human nature, memory, hopes — brought to any table by those convened there thread together the essence of purpose and intention.

Maha Khaled Al-Ghunaim
Vice Chairman and Managing Director, Global Investment House
Arab Domains
Kuwait City, Kuwait
22 May 2005

In a business environment, the human aspect is sometimes secondary to the economic or market agendas. But people and human nature underlie any agenda item no matter how pragmatic or honed, and Hassink subtly reminds the viewer of this, plus the larger cultural and gender messages unique to her geographic focus in this project.

Hessa Abdul Rahman Al-Oun
Chairman of 5 companies; a.o. Al-bidaia Company for Trading & Industry and
the First Female Industrial City Center
Arab Domains
Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
9 November 2005 (left), 11 November 2005 (right)

“It has been a challenge to grasp and understand the position of powerful Arab businesswomen.”

“It has been a challenge to grasp and understand the position of powerful Arab businesswomen. The project focuses on the corporate world because it is one of the most challenging environments for women to succeed [in],” Hassink writes. “Since 1993, I have been intrigued by the role that large corporations play in our society.”
The meeting table of the Board of Directors of LUKOIL
The Table of Power 2
Moscow, Russia
17 February 2010

“I am interested in the forces that rule these corporations, particularly their CEOs,” Hassink explains. “In the projects The Table of Power (1993–1995), Banks (1995–1996), Female Power Stations: Queen Bees (1996–2000), and Mindscapes (1998–2003), I mapped the global economy by focusing on top CEOs and large corporations like banks and multinationals. I was looking at the identity of economic power.”

Hassink elaborates: “Arab Domains is a follow-up to Female Power Stations: Queen Bees, a project in which I portrayed 15 women who in 1997 were senior executives of Global Fortune 500 corporations in the United States, Europe, and Japan. These executives contributed to the project by permitting me to photograph their office boardroom tables and home dining room tables.”

The meeting table of the Board of Directors of ThyssenKrupp
The Table of Power 2
Essen, Germany
22 March 2011

"Kings do not touch doors,"
Francis Ponge wrote. But they do run hands across
a table; they do rest palms on the surface.

“Kings do not touch doors,” Francis Ponge wrote. But they do run hands across a table; they do rest palms on the surface, as these powerful women do in their boardrooms and while dining in their homes. The synchronicity of work and rest, the ironic parallels of gesture along with the distinguishing functions of purpose these tables imply, inform Hassink’s photographs with depth and a lingering consideration of how we all blend the hours and responsibilities of a day — on an individual as well as an international corporate level..

Hosna Mohamed Rachid
Chairman, Rachid Mashreq Group
Arab Domains
Alexandria, Egypt
20 September 2006 (left), 21 September 2006 (right)

“In the West, the media has expressed such a negative stereotypical image of Arab women that I was driven to create a project that could show a different and unknown face of Arab women,” Hassink relays. “I was searching for more complexity and variation on this topic, and hope the project can be a catalyst that shows a more positive image of the Arab world than has been shown in the media over the last years.”

“In the West, the media has expressed such a negative stereotypical image of Arab women that I was driven to create a project that could show a different and unknown face of Arab women.”

“Special comments” accompany the photographs, including details of each woman’s company—things like revenue and industry type—but also personal specifics like religion, marital status, and family background. An especially unique and poignant particular is the sharing of where exactly each woman sits in both the boardroom and at home. Sometimes the women sit at the right hand of their husbands at home, sometimes opposite the main dinner guest. Sometimes the head of the table in the boardroom is reserved for the oldest person in the room. In one case, the executive woman would sit at the head of the table if the meeting was about finance; the general manager would occupy the seat otherwise. One woman prefers to sit “in the middle of the left long side of the table close to the wall.”
The Table of Power 2

Jihad Anis Hassan Abbas
Director, Business Development Consolidated Contractors Company S.A.L.
Arab Domains
Sana’a, Yemen
15 April 2006

The nuance of positioning. Yes, body language is a language. And Hassink’s inclusion of this specific detail reflects her ability not only to find value and content in subtle details, but also to point out the linguistics of physicality. She reinforces this by presenting the boardroom and dining room images side by side as diptychs.

The meeting table of the Board of Directors of ArcelorMittal
The Table of Power 2
Luxembourg, Luxembourg
4 December 2009

A 2005 Random House report, titled Women’s Rights in the Middle East and North Africa, reported that among the 16 countries studied, an average of 30% of women were economically active in the region. Information on Sudan and Iraq was not available, but of the countries reflected in the study, Palestine had the lowest percentage (9.2%) of economically active women, followed by Oman (20%); and Qatar had the highest percentage (42.1%), followed by Morocco (41.8%). By comparison, in that same year, the percentage of women economically active in Japan was 42%; in Europe, 55%; and in the United States, 65%.

Fatma Mohamed Hqaiq
Owner, Founder and Marketing & Sales Manager, Tripoli International Scientific Bookshop
Arab Domains
Tripoli, Libya
23 September 2006 (left), 24 September 2006 (right)

“The position of women in the Arab world is different than in Europe, the United States, and Japan,” Hassink explains. “So Arab Domains has a different conceptual foundation than Female Power Stations: Queen Bees. In the Arab world, family plays a very important role in society. It is of great importance for a woman starting a business to get the support of her husband and other male family members.”

The meeting table of the Board of Directors of Royal Dutch Shell
The Table of Power 2
The Hague, Netherlands
7 June 2010

Hassink’s project has involved a tremendous amount of time researching and learning about the unique aspects of industry and corporate structure specific to the countries and region in which she’s interested in photographing. Upon identifying the most successful and powerful female business leaders in each of the Arab countries where her work was focused and securing their interest in participating in the project, Hassink sent each of the women a detailed questionnaire.

Ms. Betsy D. Holden
Executive Vice President, Kraft Foods; General Manager, Kraft Cheese Division
Female Power Stations: Queen Bees
Glenview, IL, U.S.A.
3 October 1997

“One of the questions was, ‘Is there any advice you can give to a younger generation of Arab businesswomen on how to succeed in business?’” Hassink shares. “Information on nationality, position, and revenue are most important. The revenue and position of the businesswoman indicate her ranking in the corporate world, while the nationality is relevant for the concept of the project. The year of revenue is related to the date of photography; for example, when a photo was taken in 2006, I asked for the revenue of 2005.”

Mr. Holiday Jr.
CEO, DuPont
Mindscapes; 100 CEOs - 10 rooms
Wilmington, Delaware, USA
8 December 1999

Photography critic Charlotte Cotton wrote the introduction to Hassink’s book, Domains of Influence: Arab Women Business Leaders in a New Economy. In it Cotton writes, “This complex pre-shoot process is in contrast to the intense moment, invariably no longer than an hour, during which Hassink gains access to the seats of power. Hassink captures the fleeting psychological impressions of each new space and creatively transforms them into ‘maps’ of the structures and personalities that have shaped them.”

Ms. Candy M. Obourn
President of Business Imaging Systems and Office Unit; Vice President, Eastman Kodak
Female Power Stations: Queen Bees
Rochester, NY, USA
1 June 1998

Hassink’s close observation of detail has served her as an artistic approach across diverse creative mediums. “I studied fashion design and sculpture in Holland and Norway,” she tells me. “In 1992, I first picked up the camera in Oslo. I think photography combines several elements that are really connected to my personality. I love to travel and to explore the world that we are living in. I am also an intellectual and I am very curious about how the world functions and what are the driving forces of humankind. Only by leaving my home and roaming the world can I connect the dots. I am also a very physical person and I love to be active. I think it just fits the way I think about the world and the way I create.”

Ms. Beverly Sommers
Mindscapes: The shoe project
100 shoes (private shoe collection)
New York, New York, USA
July 28, 1999

“In the realm of images, the play between the exterior and intimacy is not a balanced one.”

In the book The Poetics of Space, Bachelard explores structures, spaces, the boundaries of walls, corners, lines, imagination, doors, shells, and what he calls “the dialectics of outside and inside.” He writes, “In the realm of images, the play between the exterior and intimacy is not a balanced one.”
Ms. Yukako Uchinaga
General Manager of the Asia-Pacific region of one of the world’s largest computer companies
Female Power Stations: Queen Bees
Tokyo, Japan
23 May 1997

Power, by its very definition, is an imbalance. And in her broad body of work spanning two decades, Hassink has looked at power and its maneuverings—whether corporate, gender, or cultural. The two realms of office and home sometimes work to counterbalance each other. For the lucky ones, there is a kind of coalescing.