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HomeCanadaArab women artists' visibility takes center stage at London exhibition | Breaking:

Arab women artists’ visibility takes center stage at London exhibition | Breaking:


Growing up between Jordan and Lebanon in the 1980s and 1990s, Dia Al Batal used to hear the repetitive “tick-tick-tick…tick-tick” of a hammer and chisel as her mother, Mona Saudi, worked during hours on his stone. sculptures.

As an Arab artist, the road for Saudi Arabia was not easy. Al Batal said her mother was rejected several times by exhibitors in Europe and the United States.

The Jordanian sculptor died in 2022, but one of her abstract sculptures, called “Continuity,” was part of a recent exhibition at Christie’s auction house in London called Kawkaba (Arabic for “constellation”).

“This is how my mother always wanted her work to be displayed, in collections where the public could access it, and not tucked away and tucked away,” Al Batal said in an interview in London.

Dia Al Batal, daughter of Jordanian sculptor Mona Saudi, with her mother’s sculpture “Continuity” at the Kawkaba exhibition. (Paulina Nasri/CBC)

The representation of Arab women in art has been a challenge around the world, something that the Christie’s exhibition tried to solve. Kawkaba featured more than 100 pieces, half of them by women of various faiths and ethnicities throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

Lina Khatib, director of the SOAS Middle East Institute at the University of London, said the exhibition, which ended on August 23, is an important contribution to changing the way the artistic history of the Arab world is imagined and understood.

“A gender-balanced approach is hugely important, because it shows that the Arab world is not short of talented female artists,” Khatib said. She said that a key challenge facing women artists in the region is proper recognition.

“There are many internationally renowned Arab artists, but also many others whose great work is not as well known as it deserves.”

Obstacles for Arab women in art

Dia Al Batal said her mother faced many challenges as a woman starting her career in art. Mona Saudi’s father did not encourage her passion, and at the age of 17, she ran away from Amman, Jordan, and moved to Beirut to pursue art.

In 1963, Saudi had his first exhibition in Beirut and raised enough money to take a ship to Paris to continue his art studies the following year.

Some paintings and artwork by Arab artists in Kawkaba.
A sample of some of the works presented in Kawkaba. (Amir Hazim)

“She came from a generation that did everything by herself,” Al Batal said. “She built her own name and supported herself…the opportunities that were created, she created for herself.”

Despite the challenges, Saudi ended up holding solo and group exhibitions around the world, and his work has been displayed and exhibited in collections in galleries across the United States, Europe, and the Middle East.

Al Batal, who is an artist, says she was influenced by her mother’s use of calligraphy and the Arabic language in her work.

Bahia Shehab, an artist, historian and professor at the American University in Cairo, said Arab female artists often struggle with a lack of funding and infrastructure.

“If you take the challenges of any male artist, double that and you have the challenges of female artists in the region,” Shehab said.

Kawkaba came about through the efforts of Ridha Moumni, Christie’s vice president for the Middle East and North Africa, and two members of the Barjeel Art Foundation, a United Arab Emirates-based initiative that preserves and exhibits Arabic art: curator Suheyla Takesh and her founder, Sultan Sooud Al-Qassemi.

Al-Qassemi, a collector, said the artwork in Kawkaba depicts political and cultural issues in the Arab world in the 20th century, encompassing topics such as gender dynamics and pan-Arab nationalism.

establishing a network

Al-Qassemi said that while collecting pieces for her foundation, she found it difficult to even get the names of the female artists, authenticate their work, and document and archive their history.

He said he relied on a wide network, including social media platforms, to connect with various scholars, collectors, and writers.

Sultan Sooud Al-Qassemi, collector and founder of the Barjeel Art Foundation, while commenting on the painting “The Last Sound” by Ibrahim El-Salahi, a Sudanese artist.
Sultan Sooud Al-Qassemi, collector and founder of the Barjeel Art Foundation, points to Ibrahim El-Salahi’s painting “The Last Sound.” (Paulina Nasri/CBC)

Among them was Mohamed Ali Osseiran, an interior architect and collector who runs an Instagram page to showcase the work of his aunt Samia Osseiran, a Lebanese artist. (Samia has a serious medical condition, so Mohamed is responsible for displaying and signing her work, with her permission.)

Samia Osseiran, who paints on canvas and also works on paper, is often inspired by the sun. Her painting “Formative Radiation” was selected to be Kawkaba’s main painting.

Mohamed said his aunt came from a family that encouraged the arts. He studied this trade in Lebanon, then in Florence, Italy, and obtained a scholarship to continue his studies in Japan.

But he said his work received very little attention before Kawkaba. Since the start of the exhibition in mid-July, she said she has received daily calls from people asking about Samia’s art.

Arab women artists through time

Not all of the women featured in the exhibition have experienced similar challenges.

Afaf Zurayk, 75, a Lebanese painter and writer who calls her art a “poetic interpretation,” said she never felt discouraged from pursuing an art career.

“Men have it as hard as women. They just pretend it’s easier,” said Zurayk, who has two paintings in the show, from a series called Human form.

Samia Osseiran's painting “Formative Radiation” and Kawkaba's main theme depicted on the Christie's stairs leading to the exhibition.
Samia Osseiran’s ‘Formative Radiation’ is displayed on the Christie’s stairs leading up to the exhibition. (Paulina Nasri/CBC)

Al-Qassemi’s goal with the exhibition was to give people the opportunity to broaden their knowledge of the Middle East and North Africa region as it relates to art.

As the exhibition in London came to a close this week, he posted an Instagram story saying that several works from the collection will be on loan in the United States, Europe and the Middle East.

Bahia Shehab said the exhibition was proof that Arab women artists have existed for a long time. But they need continued support.

“The patriarchy is still there,” Shehab said. “We need more men to support women and we need more women to support women.”

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