What these women artists, speaking from varied contexts, show us is that gender, womanhood, and femininity are multifaceted concepts that are up for debate and change. From artists calling for a revisiting of art market categories to those embracing womanhood intertwined with their spirituality, we share the multifaceted perspectives of our trailblazing women artists.
Art That Dissolves Gendered Stereotypes
Painter Tagreed Darghouth’s compositions, invested with impasto layers, often reflect upon the structural injustice that the artist perceives around her. In previous work Darghouth has reflected upon the unfair treatment of migrant workers under the kafala system as well as state surveillance and cultural erasure.
In her 2020 series, Toys and Trophies: From Zeus’ Pandora to Barbie Doll Darghouth tackled socially constructed ideals of feminine beauty head-on. Darghouth turned to Greek mythology as her point of departure exploring the narratives surrounding Pandora, a woman said to be invested with unrivalled physical beauty and immense sexual allure and whose destiny was to become “an evil men will love to embrace”. Darghouth explored the myths surrounding Pandora in dialogue with contemporary pop culture character, the Barbie doll. Barbie's plastic physique has become a modern icon associated with pre-packaged western gender expectations and superficiality. Through this work Dargouth sought to amplify the constructed nature of human fictions and the fetishised status of femininity. On her positionality as a woman artist Darghouth suggests:
“One ought to stand, sit and stretch, in the observer’s spot to realise that oppression is merely a conduct of the powerful against all the rest. Yet humanity, and people, revolt and evolve.
Upon understanding this, I was able to understand my own core beliefs, and eventually release myself from the dark rooms and mazes of patriarchy.
I no longer condemn - cry outs and efforts only for recognition or visibility become shallow. I prefer to act - to identify, behave and be seen solely as an artist, agnostic of gender, race or geography.”
Bodily and Spiritual Connections To Womanhood
Chafa Ghaddar’s contemporary approach to the historic fresco technique foregrounds the relationships between fresco painting and the human body. Her delicately layered surfaces are the result of intense physical labour and often embody a flesh-like fragility. Ghaddar’s latest exhibition at Tabari Artspace gallery explores the notion of the body as a landscape and site of multiple agendas - eroticism, violence, movement, temporality, love, despair and repair. The works that span installation and 2-dimensional multimedia works reveal sensual folds of skin and snapshots into moments of passion and pain played out through the female body. For Ghaddar her art is a medium that facilitates a sense of connection between her own body and the world:
“Being a woman artist is about allowing oneself to confidently, fearlessly and unapologetically make honest associations between our own body and the world and how we get to experience it. To assert that fully and offer in return.”
Her first solo exhibition at Tabari Artspace gallery in 2021 painter Alymamah Rashed produced a series of poetic watercolours and works on canvas saw the artist foreground the various elements that comprise her persona: the earth-bound (the mind and the fleshed body), the spiritual (the thobe), and a combination of the two which come to form a third space. For Rashed her womanhood is understood in dialogue with her spirithood. On this union the artist suggests:
My روح/Roh/Soul is in Union within itself through itself. My spirit and yours can fly to the seventh sky and touch the earth. My spirit and yours hold their expression through their essence.
I choose to honour and preserve my body and spirit in their glory through you and I.
I choose to caress my womanhood through my spirithood.
I choose to hold you and I in eternal love.
Artists Pioneering New Visions of Womanhood
Hyperrealist Samah Shihadi produces works at the axis of fantasy and reality that scrutinise the societal issues and imbalances that she perceives around her. Amongst her topics of concern is the unequal status of women in her society. Shihadi addresses gender imbalances by inserting her own self-portrait into empowered positions; assuming the role of the justice keeper or the hunter, for example.
“Change comes from challenging the status quo. Change lies within us.”
Artists Problematising Gendered Categories
Currently exhibited at the Sharjah Biennial, Maitha Abdalla is known for her boundary-pushing practice that harnesses theatrical codes and engages directly with socially-constructed dualities - good/bad, sin/purity, and right/wrong. In order to explore the various facets of the self and their vie for power Abdalla constructs fantastical scenes where zoomorphic characters are found in a struggle for prominence. For Abdalla, gender is another construct that deserves a revisiting:
“I never thought of myself as a ‘women artist’ actually, I have resisted the title and gendered limitations. I’m aware that people might encounter my work and label it based on gender but this limits the potential and the conversations that might arise from it.”
Currently preparing for her first solo show at Tabari Artspace gallery, Almaha Jaralla’s mixed media works on canvas pioneer new notions of the conventional portrait. For Jaralla, architecture is, for example, a concrete portrait of a society, one that offers her endless sources of inspiration. Whether documenting the shifts in the streets of Abu Dhabi with her camera (photography is always the starting point of her artistic process) or reflecting upon her family’s own archives, a quest for a sense of collective identity is a key component within her practice. Reflecting upon whether gender shapes or relates to her work as an artist, Jaralla suggests that this tag doesn’t aid the discussion surrounding her art.
“I think as an artist I should have the freedom to talk about my interests without it looping back to my gender.”