Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Edge of Arabia: Arabic women in the contemporary art scene

As we know, nowadays Russians and Chinese are ruling contemporary art scene, Europeans and Americans will be always there and Latin Americans make feel their presence even if the most memorable works are from the 1950’s or back in the 1990’s; but what about the Arabic world, the art known in the western world only comes to Arabic design in the mosques and calligraphy without forgetting some rare private collections of contemporary art like the one from The Kinda Foundation Collection.

I was pleased to be able to visit an art contemporary exhibition at SOAS London Age of Arabia , a small one but representative of the Saudi Arabia contemporary art scene.

Saudi Arabia a Country ruled by a monarchy, where the existence of politic parties is nil, a feudal system is still imposed and ruled by the Sharia. The population is restricted from certain artistic manifestations like the cinema, since it is seem as not compatible with the Islamic tradition.

It is extraordinary that under all this and more conditions a contemporary art practice is held. Also it is the technique, the plasticity of the pieces as the mix techniques used are completely contemporary. And in the content different subjects are treated and questioned as the transcendence, believe, woman, human kind, worldlessness, Islam, actual position of arabic culture among humanity, etc.

Being a woman I was especially attracted to, Al-Dowayan work and the condition in which she works, a female artist that has lived for most of her life in a semi-enclosed camp in Dhahran and works full time for a national oil company, but also has experience the life abroad in USA and UK.

She portraits with great beauty, women and relates them to male professions; she builds polar images using heavy made up models holding or using paraphernalia of different male professions. The extreme beauty in which she present this images turn them strong and powerful in meaning owe to the contradiction held by the models using the hijab, their femininity and the relation to male professions and the context in where they are photographed Saudi Arabia. She questions the role of women in the Saudi Arabia society and their role according to the Sharia law.

Although the internet, other media, and the influence of Dubai that is opening towards modernization have helped a transition in Saudi art and made possible to display Saudi art in the country, censorship still exists as Al-Dowayan says, in an interview with Henry Hemming “I cannot produce an artwork without thinking ten times about how society, as I understand it, will react to it.”

When action is no longer possible and the space for action is usurped, resistance becomes the primary vehicle of spontaneity and agonistic subjectivity. Saudi Arabian contemporary artists, in the country and abroad are opening a dialogue among the Saudi Arabia society, Arabic – Muslim world and western world. . In order to achieve an preserve a plurality, its voices should be heard and kept away from the normalizing forces of consensus and contempt.