Karen Dabrowska

The Middle East Online...

Originally published: 7th April 2018

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SHEROES: Arab artists make their voices heard at London exhibition

Three Arab artists participated in the Sheroes Exhibition held in East London last month, which aimed to give a voice to under represented female artists in the art world.

The Skirt: A tribute to women in the line of defence against fear and terror

The Skirt: A tribute to women in the line of defence against fear and terror

By Karen Dabrowska

The organisers, Lon-art, displayed their mission statement at the entrance to the exhibition pointing out that work by women artists makes up only three to five percent of work in permanent collections in Europe and America.

Answering the question Why Sheroes the statement said:

The atmospheric exhibition venue, once a warehouse in East London, was provided by Ugly Duck, which converts vacant buildings, and unused public places for creative use. The work of 26 UK and international artists was displayed in two enormous spaces which made a pleasant stroll through unique, inspirational and consciousness raising work possible for the 1000 or so visitors to the exhibition.

Aya Kirresh an architect from Jerusalem presented a video The Skirt to highlight the struggle and plight of Palestinian women. A proud solitary female figure walks among the rubble of a destroyed village, apparently walking away from her memories towards the sea.

In a statement about the video Kirresh said: “My neighbour, my aunt, my sister, my mother, all Palestinian women, and every single female refugee anywhere in the world – these women are protectors and fighters. They are a line of defence against fear and terror, shielding their children.

“My work is a symbol of the refugees from different sections of the MENA (Middle East & North Africa) region that are clustered in a small town in the northwest of Italy called Biella. This work was created as a reflection upon those refugees and myself. I was completing an art residency there during a time where my hometown of Jerusalem, was suffering from political tension. It’s a response to an occupation and a civil war that violates human rights and freedom.

The Skirt, is made from a building material used to insulate homes and buildings from temperature fluctuations and noise. The wool insulator is 100% made in Biella from natural wool and represents Biella City where refugees and I took shelter away from physical confrontation with an enemy. The Skirt has stone pockets woven with the wool; a representation of a freedom-fighting tool that expresses its power and importance in history.”

Meanwhile, Libyan artist Laila Sharif focused on representations of Oum Khalthoum in a series of digital and mixed media works called Sad Night. Explaining her choice of the works to exhibit to The Middle East, Sharif said: “ Sheroes exhibition is about shedding light on hidden histories and remembering and paying homage to female pioneers who made a difference. Who’s better than the lady named the ‘Star Of the Orient’ to do this? I wanted to show the hidden side of Oum Kalthoum’s history, her beginning, the struggles she went through and what it means to be a woman in a conservative society. Who is Um Kulthoum? I wanted to show the person behind the music and the voice, to showcase what being a creative woman in time of war and civil unrest means and to shed light on the unseen part of her career, her achievements, hopes, struggles and the influence she had, and still has, in Egypt and the MENA region on contemporary life and cultural identity.

Laila Sharif’s depictions of  Oum Kulthoum (Pic: Karen Dabrowska)

Laila Sharif’s depictions of Oum Kulthoum (Pic: Karen Dabrowska)

The calligraphy on the images read Star of the Orient, in graffiti style to represent the young generation with all their dreams and hopes of a better future. “Oum Kalthoum was the voice of the people and for the young generation she remains an icon and part of who they are but she is not well known by the young generation in the EU.”

Sharif explained why she used Egyptian tent patterns as a background to her work. “The patterns are usually bright and vivid in colour with lotus flowers interloping in beautiful patterns. They are used in all type of ceremonies and resemble the creation and rebirth of hopes and dreams in my artwork.”

Mona Chalabi, an illustrator and data editor at Guardian US exhibited unique data as art works. She described her graphic digital print works as an attempt to take the numb out of numbers. The surreal charts appear to bring the figures to life. This exhibit is particularly powerful in light of recent news of gender crimes and represents an effective visual depiction of the fact that 70 percent of sexual harassment cases go unreported: waves submerge the victims and the perpetrators in a haunting image.

Graphics as art: a work by Mona Chalabi

Graphics as art: a work by Mona Chalabi

Outlandish – technology for a better, fairer world – one of the sponsors of the exhibition described Chalabi’s works as the closest reflection of its mission to use data to make the world a safer place. The exhibition was also sponsored by GreatArt founded by the Gerstaecker family over 50 years ago, just outside Bonn, Germany. The company’s first customers were art therapy centres that specialise in working with individuals with disabilities. Today, they ship out 55,000 parcels per month and serve more than 500,000 customers all across Europe.