About the exhibit
Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of visiting the “Feminism is a Voice” art exhibition currently being held at the W Hotel’s Art 29 Studio. The exhibit combines the pieces of 12 different female Qatari and international artists, curated by Fahad Al Obaidly. It aims to offer a “multi-voiced interpretation of feminism through visual arts.”
I perceived this piece by Aisha Al Malki to be very physically expressive; the woman portrayed in the painting is poised in a way that is almost sexual, in a way that she seems to be experiencing some kind of overwhelming physical sensation. The touching of her neck, the bare shoulders, the moaning face, are not sexual in a pornographic way but rather in a more sensual way. The woman seems physically in tune with herself, yet she wears a metal headpiece reminiscent of a cultural accessory worn by Gulf women, almost as if it is a purposeful attempt to consolidate two opposites on a spectrum.
In a country where women are forced to choose between a dichotomy of “conservative” and “immodest,” where on the one hand we are sometimes sacrificing sexual autonomy and on the other hand compromising the cultural norms, the painting defies these societal standards. To me, the painting says that one can be an Arab woman, in tune with one’s culture and traditional beliefs, and that this is not mutually exclusive from being a sexual being with full control of their bodily autonomy.
“Follow your heart”
I felt that these three pieces by Abeer Al Kuwari deserved some additional consideration. The pictures here are photographs taken of a woman wearing a traditional thoub, a garment worn by both men and women across the Middle East and North Africa. In the leftmost picture, the model stands in a white jalabiya with a black sheyla headscraf cascading around her face. The next picture depicts a woman in a green thoub with gold embroidery, whose face is also obscured by the sleeve of the thoub and with books perched on her head. Finally, the rightmost picuture shows a woman in a royal blue thoub, cradling a life-sized figure of a human heart as one would cradle a baby.
These pictures caught my eye for a couple of reasons. Not only do they have the obvious meaning of encouraging women to pursue their intellectual ambitions and to do what fulfills them emotionally and spiritually (hence the books and the heart), they also show that there are a variety of ways for Qatari and Gulf women to present and dress themselves.
Despite it being a cultural piece of clothing, women don’t wear thoub in public; in fact, Qatari women don’t and can’t wear anything in public besides an abaya, usually dressing in black from head to toe because (as your father and uncles will not hesitate to remind you) women shouldn’t dress to attract attention. Yet the models in these photographs are both bright and conservative. Their clothes are colourful, their clothing is loose-fitted, but their faces are covered, a fashion choice that many Muslims deem to be more conservative.
To me, the artwork says “I am a Qatari woman, I am Muslim, but I am also bold, outgoing, and vibrant,” It says that there is no one way for Qatari women to dress and that Muslim women should define themselves based on religious ideals, not cultural beliefs of what is ’ayb (shameful).
The last piece I want to draw attention to is a bright red sculpture created by Maryam Al Homaid. The sculpture shows a smooth, featureless face sinking into the ground. A decapitated forearm lies closeby with a white wedding band on the ring finger. The sculpture is framed by two red corners drawn on the ground around it.
The artist, in describing her piece, said that it shows the danger of “falling for narcissistic personalities, whether [they are] partners, husbands, or friends” because it can “drown you” as they take your kindness and generosity for granted. “If it kills you, it isn’t love, my dear – it’s pure narcissism.”
I appreciated this piece for its focus on the toll that abusive relationships can have on women, particularly in the context of family life. When Arab women are confrontend with expectations on how they must dress, act, speak, and coduct themselves all day every day, it is often times due to the narcissism of their male family members and the inflated importance they place on having a good “reputation.” An Arab woman’s brothers, father, uncles, and cousins will always be the first to tell her that the way she behaves and dresses must abide by certain rules, mostly for fear of getting a bad reputation with other Qatari families for being too irreligious or dishonorable. An Arab woman’s husband will likely expect that she sacrifices her mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing to cook, clean, and take care of his children, without necessarily wanting to burden himself with the same responsibilities. And an Arab woman’s life will always have a disproportionate focus on pleasing others rather than pleasing herself, keeping her wary of being “too liberal,” “too slutty,” “too dishonorable,” “not motherly enough,” “not polite enough,” and too far from the ideal of an obedient, docile housewife.
Perhaps what caught my eye the most about this piece was the use of colour; the use of the colour red, the colour of love, and white, the colour of purity for the wedding ring, to show just how harmful and consuming relationships can be for us if people were to abuse us for their own selfish sake.
Ameena is a junior at Georgetown studying International Politics.