AboutHer.com never misses a beat when it comes to highlighting the achievements of Arab women from all over the world. From medicine, science, finance, sport and politics to film making, art and fashion – Arab women are smashing through every glass ceiling.
With the Middle East being so rich in culture, heritage, history and creativity, it’s no wonder our attention has been grabbed by four emerging female artists who use their art to tell a story.
Shadia and Raja Alem
Visual artist and writer respectively
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Shadia and Raja Alem are Saudi Arabian sisters who base their creative talents on their ability to focus on “translation and interpretation between different genres and notions of culture in an era of globalisation.”
Shadia is a visual artist, whose work includes Kabat Allah Al-ulya’ (Supreme Ka’ba of God), and uses both painting and photography, and Raja is an award-winning writer. In their collaborative piece, Negative No More, the sisters’ veiled images are projected into a gold curtain made of old negatives of family photographs, meshed together. The piece is personal and depicts the position of a woman and artist within Arab society, and has the objective to smash negative stereotypes and projections about Arab women.
In 2011, they represented Saudi Arabia in its first official pavilion at the Venice Biennale, with The Black Arch. An installation which investigates the negative connotations evoked by the color black, as well as exploring a transitional journey and connection between Mecca and Venice. The installation also makes use of projections and sounds which merge the sounds of pigeons, seagulls and voices of pilgrims and gondoliers.
Modern Calligraphy visual artist
The Persian artist didn’t always have her heart set on venturing into the creative fields, she told Harpers Arabia, “Initially I wanted to be a lawyer, like my father, but he saw something else in me and, after just a year of studying law in France, he suggested I move onto a fine art and interior design course. Then, whilst I was living abroad, I received some beautiful Persian books from him and was mesmerised by the incredible words.” From then on, the Persian artist used her creativity to reflect her passions for poetry and literature as she took inspiration from Persian poetry and Middle Eastern texts. “I also find that classical music, travelling and people I meet in my everyday life help to form my creative vision,” she also stated.
Saeedeh’s creative vision doesn’t stop at paintbrushes and canvases, as she expresses that her biggest dream is to create a boutique hotel inspired by poetry and art, with translating her work onto textiles next on her creative agenda. Her objective as an artist? She says, “Ultimately though, I feel that my main job as an artist is to change how people feel and for my creations to have a positive effect on their lives.”
Visual artist, painter, muralist
French – Lebanese Chafa Ghaddar is a hands-on artist in every sense of the word. Growing up in a place where she was “surrounded by stunning, inspirational landscapes,” she discovered her passion for experimenting with various materials and working with her hands – which play a huge part in her work.
“I have two forms, one is focused on contemporary art and the other is about bespoke surface finishing and wall painting,” she explains. Inspired by talents such as British artist David Hockney and American- French Louise Bourgeois, as well as “cave art”, Ghaddar develops textures, patterns and intricate finishing for her mural pieces – she which admits she’d like to see translated into textile form.
“I am the kind of artist who wants my work to be accessible. I am not expecting everyone to understand it, but I want it to move people even if they’re not from the art world."
Manal Al Dowayan
Photographer, installation artist
Manal Al Dowayan is a Saudi photographer and installation artist who creates pieces of work that directly reflect aspects of her life – both good and bad. As a Saudi woman, she focuses mainly on representing their experiences whilst using personal themes as she conveyed in her works, Landscapes of the Mind and And We Had No Shared Dreams.
Using a base layer of black and white photography, Al Dowayan uses mixed media including, silk screen prints, neon and LED light, collaging and spray paint to create her art. Her photo-series, I AM (2007), was inspired by King Abdulla Al Saud’s infamous speech which called upon all Saudi citizens to unite in building the country and stressed the importance of women’s participation in building that vision. This series saw a strong portrayal of women in traditional dress and jewellery wearing items that mirrored their professions, such as safety helmets and stethoscopes – which are usually connected with jobs seen as “male jobs” within the kingdom.
Khawla Darwish creates for a cause. The Emirati artist’s objective through her work is to raise awareness of heart related illnesses. Using her grief and emotion from losing both her father and brother, who was just 17, to cardiac related problems, as a source of creativity for her art, Khawla’s work features “anatomically correct hearts” in her body of work. When teacher noticed Darwish’s unique talent, they suggested she start a series. UAE-based Khawla Darwish was then selected to present her work at the La Biennale di Venezia in 2009 – it was the first year the UAE had exhibited.
Hoping to save lives through her work, Darwish says, “I want to be a famous artist and to sell my art internationally, but my ultimate goal is to save lives through my work, and if I can do that, that is fulfilling.”