DUBAI: A bed with a crumpled sheet in the center of a room. A woman in a plaid dress with her back turned. The daring art exhibition “As We Gaze Upon Her”, which runs until January 31 at Warehouse 421 in Abu Dhabi and is organized by the Banat Collective, does not attempt to define femininity, but asks questions after question in a delicious mix of exhibits designed to evoke an emotional response. It is a colorful and powerful representation of femininity in the Arab world.
The Banat Collective consists of Sara bin Safwan, who is the curator of Guggenheim Abu Dhabi by day, and Sarah Alagroobi, an established artist, graphic designer and art teacher. The duo organized the work of 27 male and female artists during the pandemic with a memoir to creatively challenge heteronormativity, confront patriarchy, and depict personal journeys.
The exhibition is divided into five main themes: “Subverting the Gaze” focuses on the male gaze, “Mascarade” addresses gender and heteronormativity, “Vindication of the Body” revolves around the female body, “Difference as Incompleteness” explores traditional cultural roles, and “Dysfunctionality” explores feminism.
“Banat Collective started in 2016 as a simple digital platform to interview artists and give them a platform to showcase their work,” Safwan told Arab News. “It has become this multifaceted exhibition. We wanted to explore femininity in the context of this region, as the story has always been written for us and about us, rather than by us. We took up the challenge of bringing all these artists together to claim our stories and our identities.
There is no restraint in this progressive exposure. Amina Yahya’s acrylic painting, “Te’rafy,” depicts bodies wearing “modest” and “shameless” clothing – a differentiation often used to justify sex crimes in her native Egypt. The short film “3aroosa” (The Bride) by Mashael Alsaie depicts the “performative rituals of the wedding night through the mechanical movements of the oil machines”. The film uses real archive footage of a 1968 Bahrain ice rink petrochemical plant.
“We wanted to introduce concepts that had already been discussed in the private sphere, but bring them out in public,” says Alagroobi. “The works of art present the struggles of women that exist today. “
A palette of emotions is played out in the various works. There is rage in its purest form in Rania Jishi’s installation “Dinner is Served”, where her contempt for domesticity comes to life in the form of cracked plates with words like “Anger” written on them. Utensils and food are lacking at the traditional table. Similarly, the series of black and white photographs by Saudi artist Jude Al-Keraishan, titled “Sanad”, shows a wooden seat destroyed by an ax.
Others are fun, but just as stimulating. Maitha Hamdan’s “Precautions” spotlight a simple act – eating ice cream – through a monoplane video showing the artist as she repeatedly devours an ice cream cone through a veil in a deliberately unintentional way. erotic. Ice cream acts as a “means of re-enacting gender norms, repeated, reinforced and corrected as a radical, satirical and pictorial performance”.
Shamiran Istifan uses sugar wax in his work, creating a visceral experience as the wax melts, flows and resonates, aiming to “deconstruct the beautification and objectification of the exotic woman”. In “Untitled (Shelter, Flag)”, Saba Askari transforms her used make-up removing wipes, leftovers from daily performances, into a sculpture. The material becomes both the subject and the object of his work, allowing texture to take precedence over aesthetics. The work highlights the tedious act of daily creation and erasure.
Through her multiple exhibitions, film photography, Aude Nasr appropriates traditional male clothing, such as tarbouche, confronting codes and gender constructions that divide. The soft tones and deep contrasts of his work have a spectral quality, connecting the ghosts of past tradition with a progressive future.
The Banat Collective show is to be commended for its foray into genre constructions, generally a subject that is not openly discussed in the region. In the foreground of the exhibition is Augustine Paredes’ self-portrait of her back in a fetal position superimposed on a crumpled bed sheet, on a bed with a black steel frame.
“With works like the bed, we have found so many new meanings related to gender roles and even the diaspora, as the artist is originally from the Philippines,” says Alagroobi. “As is the case with Nasr’s photographs and their expansive nature, we wanted to make sure that we set aside space for works like these, as these are important conversations to have.”