Art is her weapon, culture is her form of resistance: female artists

AAWomen and art have been combined over the centuries, as if kindness and elegance inside feminine’s bodies could best express this form of culture

As we deal with the theme of women in Middle East, it is appropriate to mention the art domain.

Arabic women through their extraordinary abilities of writing, figurative arts, music, teaching and any other kind of cultural expression, break with european and western stereotypes and prejudices on women’s world in Middle East, and more in general, in Arabic countries.

Middle East’s women attempt to enhance and fight for their condition go back even to the Middle Age, when the idea of feminism wasn’t even conceived. However, there was a movement defined with the term proto-feminism which had the objective to obtain more rights for women.

To the present day, there are numerous women that stand out in their native countries and all over the world for their incredible artistic abilities. But if for western women access to art studies and free expression of it are a day-to-day reality, for middle-eastern women it isn’t so.

Their fight to emerge is linked to censorship and oppression that certain regimes carry out towards their citizens. So, these strong and determined women are obliged to choose between their art and their family.

Certainly, artist women of Middle East don’t back down and keep fight to obtain equal rights and recognition. A shining example is the fact that in Iranians’ universities 60% of the students are females. This data has alarmed the government, which was called to intervene because it believed that the proportion of women was too high.

An important representative of middle eastern culture, able to distinguish herself for her versatile talents (both in screenplay and in photography) using her videoartistic ability to enrich her works, is Shirin Neshat.

Born in 1953, Shirin Neshat was born in Iran and is known all over the world, above all in New York, where she lives, for her capabilities in visual arts, specifically for cinema and photography. Her skill, consisting mostly in depicting a world of frustrations and pain for Iraqi women that in 1957 fought a double battle for freedom (for their country and for their lives), brought her to win the Silver Lion for the best direction at the 66th Festival of Venice in 2009, with the feature film Women Without Men. Her goal - as she stated in many interviews - is not that of stereotyping the figure of Islamic women in clichés already seen, but that of representing through her videos and photographies subjugated people, which every day have to reckon with violence and terrorism.

Shirin had to make a choice: she chose to become an exiled artist in order to fight the abuse of power in her native country and escape censorship, prosecution, capture, torture that might have led her to capital punishment. At the same time, she was forced to suffer nostalgia and the absence of her family. She has become the voice of a population to which she can’t live with and a light of hope for people who struggle: her art is her weapon and culture is her form of resistance.

She tends to depict women who fight and educated women “projected to the future, non-traditional, sexually unbiased, brave and seriously feminist”.

One of the main obstacles for women rights, still today, is that in order to justify their role in a patriarchal society, women began to use typical male manners: from clothing to the way of talking and acting. In other words, they have put themselves in competition with men and this has brought them to be disliked, especially among more conservative people.

Among the various artists that were able to shout their strength in their countries and in the world, we find the Iranian Tarlan Rafiee, who with her works of figurative arts represents women with their strength in overcoming difficulties.

A particularly relevant and inspiring event for her art is the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979. This moment has marked a turning point for the population, more and more individuals by now aware of being under-represented in their fundamental rights revolted against the central power. From that moment, the opportunities for women were visibly limited as the occasions to emerge on an equal footing with men, as they saw getting denying access to conditions that once were permitted.

The aim declared by Tarlan Rafiee is that of “doing exactly the opposite of media: they want to isolate us and separate us from the rest of the world. But we, as artists, are called to expand”.

Joelle Jammal, on the other hand, is a Libanese artist who gave a creative and brilliant shake to middle eastern art, transforming scrap material into hand-painted characters in a meticulous way.

Moreover, Bushra Shanan together with Tawfiq Gebreel, has transformed the pictures of the devastation of Gaza in emblems of resistance and unity thanks to sketches that have given new life to the images of bombardments. Their tremendous power is that of representing extremely brutal moments that people living in the West Bank are constantly experiencing, in order to make known those atrocities to the world, but with a layer of poetry and artistry.

The strength of these women lies in taking extremely complicated realities, mirroring all the countries still struggling for the achievement of protection of rights and transforming them into pure art and poetry.

Translated by Francesca Cioffi Original version by Sofia Perinetti

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    Sofia Perinetti


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