Image: Ayman Kaake, [From a Cliff II], 2023. Courtesy the artist.

Image: Ayman Kaake, From a Cliff II, 2023. Courtesy the artist.

PHOTO Book Club – Ayman Kaake on 99 Names


We caught up with Ayman Kaake following the launch of their first photobook 99 Names, published by Tall Poppy Press, at PHOTO 2024. The book was launched at PHOTO 2024's Photobook Weekend, alongside an installation of the series in the grounds of the historic Abbotsford Convent.

Hello Ayman, please start by telling us a bit about yourself.

Hello, my name is Ayman Kaake, born in Lebanon, Tripoli. By force from my parents, I graduated with a degree in telecommunication engineering, then, secretly, I studied cinematography before moving to Australia to study visual art. I bought my first camera in 2015 when I could afford one, and have been hooked ever since. Using myself as a model, I started learning photography, and my first series ‘Exulansis’ documented my feelings about being away from home and my eleven siblings.

Ayman Kaake, from the series 99 Names (2024), PHOTO 2024 installation view. Photos by William Hamilton-Coates.

We’re excited that 99 Names was exhibited as part of PHOTO 2024. What’s the story behind this project?

I’m really excited that ’99 Names’ is part of PHOTO 2024. The first drive to make this work was to show the world that homosexuality is still a crime in more than 74 countries, 13 of which impose death penalties Through my research, I expanded the postcolonial idea to also include hypocrisy in a political matter for the LGBTQIA+ SWANA community.


Like in Lebanon, where I’m from, originally, the French colony wrote a law ‘Article 534’ that put homosexuals in detention for up to 6 months, but if you flee to France and apply for a gay protection visa, you can use the same article to seek asylum.

Do you have a favourite photograph from the series?

My photograph of ‘Uncivilised’ gives me the chance to let people know that western media’s hypocrisy is being exposed. Reporters around the world seem to think it’s more of a tragedy when white people leave countries and normalise other wars raging in the middle east, and are called uncivilised by the media.


In this image, you can see me wearing an Off-White abaya with “Uncivilized” embroidery on the back. I wore it with pride like I did at the NGV Queer opening night, and people stopped me to take my picture and applauded my courage for speaking up about this issue.


I felt free and happy that night. So, this self-portrait symbolises my shift in art practice and finding courage.

Ayman Kaake, from the series 99 Names (2024), PHOTO 2024 installation view. Photo by William Hamilton-Coates.

Where do you draw inspiration for your work? Can you explain your artistic process?

I’m inspired by everyday life routine, working with Muslim middle eastern women and hearing their stories, meeting new queer friends and listening to their struggles back home and their asylum seekers journeys, and what’s really going on in this world right now was well. It’s such an ugly world where we all can be inspired!


However, the drive element that made me start this project is Rupaul Drag Race, where the queens talk about their social struggles for being gay coming from countries where Gay marriage is legal. It’s an alert that the future of LGBTQIA+ is still not clear in countries like the USA, so can you imagine what the queer community faces in countries where experiencing your true self is a crime? The first time I heard Divina De Campo, UK drag queen, say “your belief is a belief, my existence is reality”, it hit me hard and I was moved to start this project.


Imagine there’s a Middle Eastern version of Rupaul Drag Race! It will be a blast!

What do you hope viewers take away? What kind of responses does your work typically receive?

My main aim in creating this work is to create a safe haven that aims to create a sense of community and belonging among the young queer individuals from SWANA to build strong relationships, encourage each other, and uplift one another. This community will serve as a source of encouragement, motivation, and empowerment and hopefully pushing the social and cultural boundary forward towards the LGBTQIA+ community.


It’s great that this series becomes an informative piece that helps people understand queer life is still bad in a lot of countries and why people want to leave their home and seek asylum elsewhere. The best part of this series is when people reach out to me to tell me their stories and how they felt seen. It’s a lot like what I went through as a queer kid in a country where there’s no presentation to such things on media or in galleries, and you feel alone and confused. Hence, I teamed up with Tall Poppy Press to make this body of work into a book so it can be more accessible.

The theme for PHOTO 2024 was ‘The Future Is Shaped by Those Who Can See It’. What comes to mind for you when you consider that theme?

Nowadays it’s easy to translate Future into tech and AI, but my first thought was the future of queer people, especially in SWANA. I feel like every time it pushes the boundaries a bit forward, something happens and it goes back even more.


As a person who doesn’t prefer movies about space and galaxies, I always say: “before making movies about space trouble, resolve the problem on Earth first”.

Ayman Kaake, from the series 99 Names (2024), PHOTO 2024 installation view. Photos by William Hamilton-Coates.

How do you navigate the intersection of technology and art in the field of photography?

As AI continues to evolve at an unprecedented pace, the use of photography AI has become more accessible than ever before. This newfound capability has sparked intriguing questions about what photography truly means in a digital era. Let’s be honest, what’s photography these days?

What other exhibitions or artists are you looking forward to seeing at PHOTO 2024?

I was stoked to see Mous Lamrabat’s name on the list. I’m a big fan of his work and I’m so happy to see it live here in Naarm. Thank you, PHOTO 2024 team, for making this happen!

If your project was a song, what would it be?

Well! ‘I want to break free’ is the first song that came to my mind today. Maybe next year when I look back at this series I’ll sing ‘Stronger than yesterday’.

What advice would you give your 15 year self?

Get a camera ASAP and document your family before you leave for good.

Ayman Kaake, from the series 99 Names (2024), PHOTO 2024 installation view. Photo by William Hamilton-Coates.

Founding Partners
  • Bowness Family Foundation
  • Naomi Milgrom Foundation
Major Government Partners
  • City of Melbourne Arts Grants Program
  • Creative Victoria
Major Partners
  • Maddocks

PHOTO Australia respectfully acknowledges the traditional custodians of the lands upon which we work and live, and the rich and diverse Indigenous cultures across what is now called Australia. For over 60,000 years, Indigenous arts and culture have thrived on this sacred land, and we honour Elders and cultural leaders past and present. This was, and always will be, Aboriginal land.

01–24 March