Spanish exhibition gives platform to Middle Eastern female artists

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Image: One hundred years of solitude, 2013. Nidaa Badwan. Image: Courtesy of IVAM via AFP Relaxnews

The Institut Valencià d’Art Modern (IVAM) in Spain will be showcasing a fraught but important topic. “In Rebelliion: Female Narratives in the Arab World” breaks with the predominant gender discourse attributed to Arab countries, and the world at large, about women and their art.

The exhibition’s key themes examine both artistic production and representation of Middle Eastern women in art, spanning a hundred works shown chronologically from the 1990s until to the present. Exceptions are the pioneering work of Beirut-born Mona Hatoum, whose video “Measures of Distance” was made in 1988 and is the starting point of the show, and the documentary photography of Farida Hamak, “Ma mère. Histoire d´une immigration”.

The show also gathers works by artists like Amal Kenawy (Cairo, 1974-2012), Ahlam Shibli (Palestine, b. 1970), Rula Halawani (Palestine, b. 1964), Raeda Saadeh (Palestine, b. 1977), Zineb Sedira (Paris, b. 1963), Ghada Amer (El Cairo, b. 1963), and Leila Alaoui (Paris, 1982- 2016).

Cumulatively, these artists address knotty topics: taboos, religion, diaspora, exile, patriarchy, domesticity, public space, sexuality, and criticism of gendered clichés. Indeed, the exhibition aims to undercut the East versus West/modern versus traditional polarities and reframe the stereotyped vision that Arab women are incapable of defending or expressing themselves.

A girl wearing a bikini, 2003. Zohra Bensemra. Image: Courtesy of IVAM via AFP Relaxnews

The show examines other factors that have reshaped the circumstances in this part of the world. The creation of the Al Jazeera Arabic in 1996, and an English version in 2006, revolutionized the way information about the Arab world was retrieved, circulated, and perceived, especially relative to the often one-sided Western takes. The ongoing growth of galleries, art fairs, and biennials in the region has also changed the way art became part of local and global expression.

As political events continue to create turmoil and orient the tone of the news, this exhibition creates a counterpoint the way current socio-political issues are dealt with, creatively and psychologically—especially by a sector of society so often otherwise dismissed.

The exhibition is on view from September 14, 2017 through January 28, 2018. JB

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