Battlegrounds: Aya Haidar Solo

23 February - 18 April 2024

Battlegrounds is the inaugural exhibition of Lebanese-British artist Aya Haidar at Tabari Artspace now represented by the gallery. 

Aya Haidar’s multimedia practice addresses themes related to womanhood, invisible labour, forced displacement, Homeland and territory, social constructs and inequalities. A graduate with a BA in Fine Arts from the Slade School of Fine Art in London and an MSc in NGOs and Development from LSE, Haidar’s diverse yet interconnected experiences contribute to her artistic output in dialogical and overlapping ways. Positioned at the intersection of art, politics, and society, her work explores her web of experiences as a mother, woman, artist, and humanitarian worker. 

The exhibition, Battlegrounds, portrays women and their bodies as sites of battle—heroines and collateral in the conflicts of life. While, upon first glance, the themes explored within individual works might seem far-reaching — from maritime maps revealing invisible underwater territories to scenes capturing Lebanese tetas gazing out of their windows in Beirut, the depiction of the cat calls imposed upon women walking the streets, domestic scenes depicting invisible labour, migrant narratives and misogyny — the overarching notion that women are battlegrounds, caught in crossfire and subjected to the ultimate sacrifice under patriarchy, hegemony, and conflict rings throughout this presentation. The importance of addressing misogyny is amplified by Haidar with a call to expose the collateral damage inflicted upon women in various aspects of life. 

In this work, the realms of womanhood, motherhood, and domesticity unfold through textiles as the primary medium, a material laden with gendered associations tied to craft and societal constructs of femininity. The selected pieces for this exhibition include both retrospective works and newly produced pieces, collectively challenging societal expectations of women. Among them, new works from Haidar’s I Felt It series, 2024, are on display. This body of work transforms the domestic setting into a political canvas, a space traditionally associated with women's responsibilities—repetition, care work, cleaning, unpaid labour, and familial duties. Haidar's intent is to elevate the unsung heroes of the mundane, portraying the invisible labourers of the domestic sphere as her champions. These mixed-media works showcase found objects liberated from their conventional roles—old scourers, cleaning cloths, and the nets that once carried fruit and vegetables—reimagined as harmonious landscapes, constituting a visual celebration. The series title, I Felt It, holds a dual significance, referencing both the felting process employed in these works and acknowledging the emotions experienced by the invisible labourer, posing the question: how do they really feel?

Other works emerge from Haidar's personal interactions. Through the medium of embroidery, she portrays scenes that convey the survivor stories recounted by women in refugee camps during her extensive engagement with displaced communities spanning over two decades. These pieces unfold narratives of loss, grief, resilience, and abuse, portraying these women as inadvertent protagonists thrust into the frontline of their own battles.

For example, Crossing Borders, 2024, is an embroidery work on cotton. This piece foregrounds a scene etched in Haidar's mind—a pregnant mother carrying her youngest children in her arms, while her older ones trail behind her. The sheer force and determination embodied by a woman seeking safety with her most precious cargo evoke both a harrowing and resounding impact.

In another embroidery on cotton work, Overboard, 2024, Haidar relays the narrative of Iman, a woman who fled from Syria to Turkey overland, exhausting all her resources to cross the sea in an overcrowded rubber dinghy from Turkey to Greece with her three-month-old baby boy. The baby, unsettled and crying from cold and hunger, wouldn't quieten, and the trafficker ripped him from Iman’s arms and threw him overboard. To them, the infant represented a risk to their entire operation and had to serve as collateral. 

In addition to these smaller embroidery works, several large-scale tapestries aim to confront the prevailing beliefs that haunt women. Vive La Révolution, 2024, is a tapestry of patched fabric on cotton, 100 x 110cm. Haidar has worked with scraps of fabric absorbed from the home - aprons, bedsheets, upholstery, and curtains. The artwork depicts a woman courageously wielding her broom and iron, adorned with a flowing silk cape. Rooted in the domestic realm, this image emerges as an ode to unveil and celebrate the often overlooked and undervalued everyday heroines – the unsung ‘Sheroes’. These individuals, labouring in the domestic sphere, remain un(der)paid, un(der)valued, and unfortunately, frequently invisible in our society.

A second large-scale 190 x 185cm patched fabric on cotton work, A Woman’s Place, 2024, spells out: "A WOMAN’S PLACE IS IN THE REVOLUTION." Scrap fabrics which originated from within the domestic zone relate to the material limitations that traditionally confined girls and women. Here, these cut-up rags and cleaning cloths serve to affirm that a woman’s place is firmly at the forefront of the revolution.