Young artists raise questions about Middle East stereotypes
Last month marked the 10th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the US, so it’s timely that ‘Raising the Stereotype’, an exhibition showcasing works by nine young Arab artists from across the region, raises discussion about preconceived ideas of Muslims and the Middle East in other parts of the world. Running at The Ara Gallery until October 29, the artists were selected as part of a competition, in which they were asked to deliver their voice to the rest of the world. Interestingly, each of the successful artists turned out to be women. We get inside the heads of four of them to learn more about the preconceptions of Muslims.
You See Is Not What You See By Imann Aldakheel, 26, from Saudi Arabia
The artist on her work. ‘The figure shown sitting here is the person behind the stereotypes – the person that you don’t know. It shows them from the inside, away from the exterior that others see. When we see people we have this impression of them, usually from their appearance, but we don’t always have the correct impression. My message is to try not to judge people from what you’ve heard or think they are.’
What is the most widely held misconception about Arab culture? ‘That the Arab world is backwards and uncivilised.’
The Dali By Mona Al Qahtani, 25, from Saudi Arabia
The artist on her work. ‘This piece is named after the iconic moustache of Salvador Dali. I’m trying to show the image of macho men with exaggerated features; it’s how Arab men embrace their masculinity. Men with less or no facial hair are considered less acceptable. That’s the stereotype.’
What is the most widely held misconception about Arab culture? ‘Being oppressed because of religion and traditions. The truth is we’ve come a long way. Today Arab women reach high ranks in all possible fields – sometimes ahead of men.’
The Great Depression By Laudi Abilama, 25, from Lebanon
The artist on her work. ‘This piece addresses freedom of expression in the Middle East. Most subjects have agreed to write their thoughts on white boards similar to the ones that were used during The Great Depression in the US throughout the ’20s and ’30s. This series of artworks represents a number of people from various social and cultural backgrounds that I have encountered through my travels in the region.’
What is the most widely held misconception about Arab culture? ‘That we are all the same.’
Now and Then By Sara Elkamel, 21, from Egypt
The artist on her work. ‘It represents a state of limbo, being caught up somewhere between the present and the past, but unable to look forwards to a future. The figure stands still in the piece, while the surroundings strive to move. The message is that you have a choice, to stop being paralysed by the past and start visualising a future. The painting depicts the way women are stuck between the traditional roles of the past and their undefined realities. I used images and text from foreign magazines such as Vogue, Vanity Fair and Cosmopolitan and added my own Arab perspective.’
What is the most widely held misconception about Arab culture? ‘That Muslims are extremists and terrorists. But I don’t think that’s the only, or the most threatening, misconception.’
The lowdown Exhibition: ‘Raising the Stereotype’ at The Ara Gallery, Downtown Burj Khalifa (04 454 2781) until October 29. Artists: Imann Aldakheel, Laudi Abilama, Malak ElShazly, Mona F Al Gurg & Wendy W Fok, Mona Al Qahtani, Sara Elkamel, Sarah Ayoub Agha, Soraya Darwish. From: Across the region. Price range: Dhs4,500 to Dhs20,000.