Leila Alaoui

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Leila Alaoui
Born(1982-07-10)10 July 1982
Paris, France
Died18 January 2016(2016-01-18) (aged 33)
Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso
NationalityFrench and Moroccan
Alma materCity University of New York
Known forPhotographer and video artist

Leila Alaoui (10 July 1982 – 18 January 2016) was a French–Moroccan photographer and video artist.[1][2][3] She worked as a commercial photographer for magazines and NGOs and completed assignments on refugees. Her work was exhibited widely and is held in the collection of Qatar Museums. Alaoui died from injuries suffered in a terrorist attack in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.[4]

Life and work[edit]

Alaoui was born in Paris to a Moroccan father and a French mother, and grew up in Marrakesh, Morocco.[4] During her childhood and adolescence, she was regularly exposed to tragic stories of migrants drowning at sea while undertaking hazardous journeys, which she interpreted as stories of social injustice.[5] When Alaoui turned 18, she moved to New York City to study photography at the City University of New York.[5] Alaoui felt that studying in the United States allowed her to become "even more exposed to questions of belonging and identity construction".[6] She returned to Morocco in 2008.[2]

Alaoui believed that photography and art could be used for social activism, and should be used for "reflecting and questioning society".[7] As a result, she chose to focus her work on social and national realities of cultural identity and diversity, migration and displacement.[8] To do this, she used image creation, reports and studio video installations. One of her commonly used techniques was to set up a portable studio in a public place such as a market square and to invite interested passers-by to be photographed.[4] Alaoui stated that her inspiration for this type of portrait photography came from Robert Frank's portrayal of Americans in the post-war era, such as in The Americans (1958).[9] Alaoui often emphasizes her subjects, minimizing the background of some of her portraits.[10]

Art critics described her work as "post-Oriental", referring to the theory of Orientalism proposed by Edward Said.[11]

Her photos were published in The New York Times and Vogue.[4] She also completed assignments for the Spanish TV reality show El Mago.[12] In 2013, she was commissioned by the Danish Refugee Council to create a series of portraits of refugees in Lebanon.[13] The project was called Natreen ("We Wait").[13] In 2013, she created a video installation entitled Crossings, describing the journeys of Moroccans travelling to Europe.[14] In 2015, she completed a photographic assignment "Everyday Heroes of Syria", in Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, focusing on Syrians living in refugee settlements.[8] The project was completed for the Danish Refugee Council, the European Commission Humanitarian Aid Office and ActionAid.[15]


Alaoui was hired by UN Women[16] and Amnesty International to work on a photographic assignment on women's rights in Burkina Faso. On January 16, 2016, during her first week working on the assignment, she was seriously wounded by gunshots while sitting in a parked car with her driver outside the Cappuccino café whilst gunmen attacked the Cappucino and the Splendid Hotel. Mahamadi Ouédraogo, the driver, sustained critical injuries and died in the vehicle. Alaoui was quickly taken to a hospital and, following an operation, seemed initially to be in a stable condition. She died three days later of a heart attack.[4][17][18] Her remains were flown to Morocco at the expense of King Mohammed VI of Morocco.[19]

On her death, the director of the Maison européenne de la photographie and the president of Arab World Institute made a joint statement praising her work giving "a voice to the voiceless"[8] and noting that she was "one of the most promising photographers of her generation".[4]


The humanistic commitment displayed by Alaoui throughout her life and work led, after her death, to several tributes in Morocco, France, and many other countries. The 6th Marrakech Biennale (February–May 2016) was dedicated to her memory, as well as the 2nd Photography Biennale of the contemporary Arab world in Paris (2017).

Her family created the Leila Alaoui Foundation in March 2016 to preserve her work, defend her values, and inspire and support artists working to promote human dignity.[20]


  • Marrakesh Biennial, Morocco, 2012[21]
  • Marrakesh Biennial, Morocco, 2014[21]
  • Crossings, Marrakech Museum of Photography and Visual Arts, 2015;[7] Cairo Video Festival, 2015[22]
  • Luxembourg Art Week, November 2015[23]
  • Biennale of Photography in the Contemporary Arab World, Paris, 2015[9]


Alaoui's work is held in the following public collection:


  1. ^ Snaije, Olivia (January 22, 2016). "Leila Alaoui obituary". The Guardian. London. Retrieved January 23, 2016.
  2. ^ a b Shearlaw, Maeve (January 20, 2016). "Tributes to Leila Alaoui, photographer killed in Burkina Faso terror attack". The Guardian. London. Retrieved January 22, 2016.
  3. ^ Withnall, Adam (January 22, 2016). "The artist who was killed by jihadists – and what she was trying to tell the world". The Independent. London. Retrieved January 22, 2016.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Bilefsky, Dan (January 19, 2016). "Leila Alaoui, Photographer Wounded in Burkina Faso Siege, Dies at 33". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved January 19, 2016.
  5. ^ a b "Amnesty photographer Leila Alaoui killed in Burkina Faso al-Qaeda attack". British Journal of Photography. Retrieved January 20, 2016.
  6. ^ Al-Mousawi, Nahrain (July 19, 2015). "Q&A: Tackling taboos in Morocco's art scene". Al Jazeera. Retrieved January 20, 2016 – via EBSCO.
  7. ^ a b Al-Mousawi, Nahrain (July 19, 2015). "When we spoke to Leila Alaoui on tackling taboos in art". Al Jazeera. Retrieved January 20, 2016.
  8. ^ a b c Zhang, Michael (January 19, 2016). "Photographer Leila Alaoui Dies After Al Qaeda Attack in Burkina Faso". PetaPixel. Retrieved January 20, 2016.
  9. ^ a b "Culture – Paris exhibition takes on clichés of Arab world". France 24. November 13, 2015. Retrieved January 20, 2016.
  10. ^ "Cultural Diversity Through Potpourri". The Daily Star. September 26, 2013. Archived from the original on February 20, 2016. Retrieved January 20, 2016 – via HighBeam Research.
  11. ^ "Leila Alaoui". Artforum. Retrieved January 20, 2016.
  12. ^ Dieseldorff, Karla (January 19, 2016). "Leila Alaoui's Photo Session with Brazilian Football Player Neymar". Morocco World News. Retrieved January 20, 2016.
  13. ^ a b "Art Meets Activism: Humanizing Refugees With Photos". The Daily Star. November 29, 2013. Archived from the original on February 20, 2016. Retrieved January 20, 2016 – via HighBeam Research.
  14. ^ McKenzie, David (January 19, 2016). "In Burkina Faso, a young artist killed doing what she loved". CNN. Retrieved January 20, 2016.
  15. ^ "Launch of the Everyday Heroes of Syria campaign". The Creative Memory of the Syrian Revolution. June 15, 2015. Archived from the original on January 26, 2016. Retrieved January 20, 2016.
  16. ^ S.J. (February 25, 2016). "Photography: Leila Alaoui pointed her lens at those unseen". The Economist. Retrieved March 5, 2016.
  17. ^ "Burkina Faso: Devastating news of the deaths of Leila Alaoui and Mahamadi Ouédraogo | Amnesty International". Amnesty International. January 19, 2016. Retrieved January 20, 2016.
  18. ^ "Burkina Faso attack: Leila Alaoui, Amnesty photographer, dies". BBC News. January 19, 2016. Retrieved January 20, 2016.
  19. ^ "King Mohammed VI to Pay for Transfer of Leila Alaoui's Remains". Morocco World News. Retrieved January 20, 2016.
  20. ^ "Fondation Leila Alaoui – Qui sommes-nous ?". Fondation Leila Alaoui (in French). Retrieved December 9, 2018.
  21. ^ a b c "Artist Leila Alaoui Dies from Injuries Sustained in Burkina Faso Terror Attack". Artforum. January 19, 2016. Retrieved January 20, 2016.
  22. ^ El Safoury, Nour (December 26, 2015). "FestBeat: Talking about institutions and fluidity at Cairo Video Festival". Mada Masr. Archived from the original on January 30, 2016. Retrieved January 20, 2016.
  23. ^ "Luxembourg Art Week 2015". Luxembourg Art Week. Archived from the original on January 29, 2016. Retrieved January 20, 2016.

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