GVSU journalism student creates photo exhibit of life in Oman

GVL / Courtesy - Gabriella Patti

GVL / Courtesy - Gabriella Patti

Carmen Smith

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Grand Valley State University journalism student, Gabriella Patti, created a photo exhibit portraying life in Oman. Her exhibit focuses on breaking down language barriers and the “universal language” of humanity in the Middle East.

Photography from Patti’s five-week, faculty-led trip to Ibri, Oman is currently on display in the Red Wall Gallery in Lake Ontario Hall on the Allendale Campus from now until Friday, March 10.

Patti majors in multimedia journalism and international relations and minors in Middle Eastern studies.

The photos taken during her study abroad trip to Oman have been displayed before on the Blue Wall Gallery in the DeVos Center prior to this current exhibit.

While in Oman, Patti studied business and Arabic while immersing herself in Middle Eastern culture. Patti said she referred to a quote from her favorite book to lead the way during her time in Oman called “The Little Prince,” which states “If I can learn to understand a language without words, I can learn to understand the world.”

She focused on taking photos of people in order to capture and explore humanity in the Middle East. Many of the people in Oman spoke very little English, so Patti had to learn to communicate and how to ask people if she could photograph them in a respectful way.

Patti said it was easier to capture photos of men, especially if she was with men. She has only a couple photos of women. Discussing the misunderstandings and generalizations of the Middle East, her photos show that within the Middle East, each country and town is unique and each person is unique.

“I wanted to capture humanity. I wanted to show (that) there is this ‘universal language’ across the countries and across barriers, and that we’re all the same at the end of the day,” Patti said.

Patti emphasized how interesting and gratifying it was to explore the culture outside of the “war and stripes” way the Middle East is portrayed in the media.

Laughing about boys, talking about clothes and sharing frustrations through a “universal language,” Patti was able to get to know the girls she was staying with in Oman.

Through her photos and experiences, Patti aims to show we are not the only people in this world, and people in the Middle East experience things the same way we do; there is a connection across borders.

She hopes her pictures will inspire people who are skeptical of the Middle East and of Islam to explore their skepticisms and do further research outside of their comfort zones. Patti encourages all students to become a part of the study abroad program.

“At the end of the day, laughter is universal, tears are universal, and despite language barriers and all of that, there’s this beautiful universal language that you will never forget if you just have a little empathy and step out of your comfort zone,” Patti said.

Through her experience in Oman, Patti hopes to motivate others to experience things outside of themselves and learn to be empathetic by exploring what the world has to offer. Patti said her time in Oman was rewarding and encouraged her to be more adventurous in her time there and to learn things outside of herself.

“I hope it inspires people to think. We all have joys and sorrows, we all laugh, we have these friendships across barriers, and I wanted to portray that in some way,” she said. “I think I captured that for the most part, there’s a lot of expression in the pictures I took.”