We'll Build this City on Art and Love

Optimistic tone to new exhibition at Ayyam Gallery in DIFC

The Tangled Tale
The Tangled Tale
Through the Looking Glass – Child Bride
Through the Looking Glass – Child Bride
Family Portrait
Family Portrait

Kuwaiti artist Shurooq Amin expresses a range of social issues in her latest exhibition, ‘We’ll Build This City on Art and Love’.

Inspired by the classic ’80s rock song, ‘We Built This City on Rock and Roll’ by American rock band Starship, Kuwaiti artist Shurooq Amin has reworked the title to convey her message of love through art. Visitors to the Ayyam Gallery in DIFC can view ‘We’ll Build This City on Art and Love’ from September 14 until October 30.

Born in 1967 in Kuwait, Shurooq Amin is an interdisciplinary artist of Kuwaiti-Syrian background. The visual artist is a Pushcart Prize-nominated poet with a doctorate in creative writing and ekphrasis from Warnborough College, England. In 2013, she was awarded the title of ‘Artist of the Year’ by the Arab Woman Awards in Kuwait and was the first female Kuwaiti artist to have work auctioned by renowned auction house Christie’s in 2012.

The roles of women in Arab society remain central for the artist in the exhibition, while moving away from the individual she reflects on a variety of social issues, ranging from war and conflict, to corruption and hypocrisy. Authors long admired by Amin, including British writer Lewis Carroll, are among the influences found in her visual motifs.

Works such as ‘Piece of the Pie: Who Stole the Tarts?’ reflect her thoughts on both the state of political affairs in the Arab world, as well as the topsy-turvy nature of modern life in general. The painting depicts a young woman clad in a dress and red heels, her face is masked and she holds a finger up to her lips, and in her other hand holds a pie. While men bicker and fight over the largest piece of the pie, like Alice from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, the young woman grows tall until finally attaining an omnipresence of sorts.

‘I seem to be gravitating towards this topsy-turvy theme because everything around us doesn’t make sense. The fact that people are killing each other in Syria and we have war, for me it’s like the world’s gone mad. It’s my way of reflecting this Alice in Wonderland, weird, nonsensical existence of ours,’ says Amin.

In the combining of various media, the use of bright pink and red and a sense of whimsy, Amin’s canvases are vivacious even while approaching subject matter of a serious or delicate nature.

‘Maybe it’s my literature background but I tend to reference movies, songs and books and give them a sarcastic tongue-in-cheek angle. This series is really a cry for construction because there’s been so much destruction in the world and it’s not just war-torn. I feel like people have become demoralised and more pessimistic. Mankind has caused the destruction so we could construct everything ourselves again,’ explains Amin.

Immediately striking in Amin’s work is the realism in the depiction of elaborately attired men and women, whose taste for fashion signifies power and social posturing.

‘It’s just my way of reflecting society. Every picture gives you an idea of the era that it was painted in. I’m just being myself and I’m showing my society, there’s hypocrisy, there’s double standards and it’s my way of calling them out,’ says Amin.

Amin’s figures, pictured against Louis Vuitton luggage or clad in embroidered abayas, are a way of showing how their true identities are hidden. ‘Our society does not look in the mirror and I’m putting a mirror up and I’m showing what is going on. I’m not saying everyone is like this, but it exists,’ explains Amin.

In covering a range of social issues, often referring to turbulent times and to dark subject matter, the 47-year-old’s message is ultimately that of hope.

‘I feel that people who have integrity and who maybe have just been careless and unaware, will try to make changes, even just by talking about it. So they’ve started the ball rolling and then we’ll have a domino effect. So my message is for change and progress,’ says Amin.

In ‘We’ll Build This City on Art and Love’, the artist employs materials as diverse as wood, reclaimed photographs and braille. Unique to this exhibition are sombre works that bring together significant landmarks from Kuwaiti history, photographic remnants and charcoal drawings.

‘My work isn’t cryptic. The images are beautiful and pleasing. Maybe people will find themselves with a few ideas in their head’s after they view it,’ says Amin.

With Amin’s thought-provoking works, perhaps we’ll see more individuals take a stand for important social issues through the arts.
We’ll Build This City on Art and Love. From September 14 until October 30. Open Sun-Thu 10am-6pm. Ayyam Gallery, Gate Village Building 3, DIFC (04 439 2393).

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