We catch up with Albareh managing director and curator Hayfa Aljishi, to talk about the place of women in Middle Eastern art
Time Out Bahrain staff
What was the reason for holding an all female exhibition? There’s no doubt that there are as many female artists as male artists. The idea of the show was to gather women from all over the region to display each of their different representations and artistic approaches. And above all, this exhibition aims to represent a spirit that is to look inside the circle, outside the social parameters… at the other side of womanhood.
Do you think women artists are underrepresented in the Middle East? Does this matter? This is not an issue of numbers. Nowadays talents are appreciated whether the artist is a woman or a man. You’ll not have too much difficulty to list five female artists from the Arab world.
Islamic and Western art has a long tradition of cultural exchange and conversation. Is there also a conversation to be had among countries within the Middle East? What forms the basis of this? Absolutely! Next to the cultural institutions and organisations, galleries should be taking on this role, engaging dialogue and organising seminars. Most galleries in the region are an open platform for Arab artists, and not only specific nationalities. This infusion is very important to engage a cultural exchange.
In conservative cultures, art tends to be political. Are women artists in the Middle East politicised? Art is a window for political and social issues. As far as I am concerned, I feel that one who lives an injustice or oppression is more able to express it through art than somebody who observes it. That’s why you can see so many Arab and Iranian women artists speaking out through different mediums about their social conditions. But our show isn’t about that, even though we have selected some who express strong political statements, like Shadi Ghadirian. We have chosen to represent some of the most reputable artists from Bahrain as well as respected artists from the rest of the region. In other words, we’ll be showcasing the works of 10 women that are at different stages of their artistic lives and with different social backgrounds, to display what really moves them in this world.
Beirut has traditionally been one of the focal points of Middle Eastern art. Is this shifting? If so, where to and why? Beirut has always been and, in some respects, will certainly remain the creative nest of the region. But it cannot be considered anymore as the only art market. Collectors and art lovers used to come to Beirut to be at the centre of creativity, to be where art was. But art has spread everywhere in the region, through international art fairs, biennales, and with the increasing presence of auction houses in Gulf States, which has taken art in the region to the next level. Dubai, Abu Dhabi and to a certain extend Bahrain are a platform where international Arab artists have to be, because these countries have created hubs which are melting pots for both artists and collectors.
For you, who is the most exciting female Middle Eastern artist working today, and why? There are a number of women artists that I like such as Lara Baladi and Susan Hefuna from Cairo, Mona Hattoum from Palestine, Shirin Neshat from Iran, to name but a few. These women have tried to bridge the gap between the East and West, and for me this is important in this age and time to bring societies together, dispel stereotypes and increase understanding and tolerance. Stare At The Other Side, an exhibition bringing together 10 of the Middle East’s best female artists, opens at Albareh Art Gallery on May 9 at 7pm and runs until May 30.