In her sunlit portrait of the pole dancing instructor Nusaiba Al Maskari, the UK-born Omani photographer Eman Ali creates an arresting visual simile between the strength of Al Maskari’s body and the Hajar Mountains in the background. Gracefully extending herself horizontally from her pole, she aligns with the peaks above Muscat, a single fluid line across the picture plane.
Ali, who currently works between Oman and Bahrain, began practicing pole dancing herself while living in London years ago. She wanted to meet and photograph Al Maskari in particular after hearing about the instructor’s private studio, Rock & Rhythm, she explained over email.
“I am drawn to like-minded women who aren’t afraid to be themselves,” Ali said.
Though pole dancing has become a popular form of fitness around the world over the past two decades, having such a studio in the Gulf country is “highly unusual,” Ali explained.
“I admire her bravery in bringing a sport that celebrates female sensuality to a more conservative environment and am inspired by how she helps women feel confident and empowered by their body.”
The striking portrait is part of Ali’s meditative series about life in Oman, “The Earth Would Die if the Sun Stopped Kissing Her,” part of a global project from the NFT platform Obscura in which nearly 140 photographers documented contemporary life during the same month.
Ali’s contribution, which she also exhibited at the international fair Paris Photo last fall, is a love letter to Oman’s land and people, “highlighting the beauty, imperfections and strength” that bind us, she explained. In other images, she plays with the poetic qualities of light, casting star projections across a portrait of a man whose eyes are closed in reverie, and setting another portrait of a woman against the deep purple hues of sunset.
Some of Ali’s fondest memories in Oman are of time spent in nature — from “magical” childhood camping trips in the country’s wadis, or oases, to diving in the Gulf of Oman, she said. So, rather than take Al Maskari’s portrait in her studio, she asked her if they could meet outdoors at the Bousher Sand Dunes. Known locally as “Urooq,” the dunes rise high above buildings in southeastern Muscat but have been “slowly disappearing” because of urban growth, she explained.
The morning she met Al Maskari and her husband it was sweltering, giving them little time to shoot before Al Maskari’s portable pole became too hot to touch. Ali only had time for a handful of photographs as Al Maskari moved through the poses she had planned, but was quickly drawn to this image for its symmetry; the “harmony between the female body and nature herself,” Ali described.
Al Masakari used the photograph on her studio’s Instagram page to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, calling it “such (a) beautiful picture.”
Ali plans to attend one of Al Maskari’s classes when she next returns to Muscat, and praises the instructor for her dedication to the sport.
“She’s providing a safe and fun space for women,” Ali said. “She’s also promoting body positivity…as well as helping to create a sense of community among her students. I think it’s really great how she is helping to normalize pole dancing as a legitimate form of exercise and art form.”
Top image: Nusaiba Al Maskari in Muscat