Leila Alaoui

Leila Alaoui (1982–2016) was a French-Moroccan photographer and video artist. She worked as a commercial photographer for magazines and NGOs and completed assignments on refugees. Her work was exhibited widely. Alaoui died from injuries suffered in a terrorist attack in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.

Alaoui believed that photography and art could be used for social activism, and should be used for “reflecting and questioning society”. As a result, she chose to focus her work on social and national realities of cultural identity and diversity, migration and displacement. To do this, she used image creation, reports and studio video installations. Alaoui often emphasizes her subjects, minimizing the background of some of her portraits.

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

Alaoui was hired by UN Women 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 while 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 seemed initially in a stable condition following an operation. She died three days later of a heart attack. Her remains were flown to Morocco at the expense of King Mohammed VI of Morocco.

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” and noting that she was “one of the most promising photographers of her generation.”