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Chronicling the Push and Pull of a Modernizing Saudi Arabia

Ayesha Malik

"I am not telling anyone how to think or feel about Saudi Arabia. I'm not interested in providing answers or definitions."

This story appeared in the August issue of VICE magazine. Click HERE to subscribe.

Ayesha Malik was born in Saudi Arabia and grew up on an American compound housing employees and families of the Saudi Arabian Oil Company; the gated community was modeled after the suburbs of California. As a young woman, Malik began exploring the Saudi Arabia outside her Western enclave, and she developed an obsession with documenting the country's changing character and its dichotomies. "I am endlessly curious about the boundless and shifting nature of Saudi identity as seen in its people, its land, and its cities," she said.

The pull of contemporary identity contrasts with the country's desire to maintain its traditions, and Malik's work sets out to observe that without comment. Her agenda is to avoid one. "I am not telling anyone how to think or feel about Saudi Arabia. I'm not interested in providing answers or definitions," she said. "We live in a world where I feel too many individuals and places are defined by generalizations based on one aspect of identity."

Her point of view is made more distinctive by her Pakistani background and the unique experience afforded by her American passport. This portfolio, which Malik envisions as a lifelong exploration and record of the country, shows a place with an identity as complex as her own.