Challenging Notions, Igniting Conversations, And Exploring Perspectives
Hayaty Diaries’ “Through Their Eyes” Exhibition in London
Credits: From "Through Their Eyes" Exhibition.
By Aya Nassar
In the dynamic intersection of art, culture, and celebration, Hayaty Diaries emerged in September 2022 as a testament to the vibrant narratives of emerging female voices in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Founded by the visionary duo of Christina Shoucair and Kinzy Diab, Hayaty Diaries is not merely an artistic platform; it is a commitment to illuminate the talent, stories, and compelling journeys of Arab female artists entering the global art space.
At the heart of their mission lies the dedication to diversify the current art market in London, a city that echoes with the footsteps of artistic giants. For Hayaty Diaries, this commitment is not just about representation; it's about celebrating the kaleidoscope of creativity that the MENA region offers and promoting it to collectors and art enthusiasts worldwide.
In a landmark event that unfolded at the Oxo Gallery in London for one week from November 28th, 2023, Hayaty Diaries unveiled its inaugural group exhibition titled "Through Their Eyes: Perspectives Unveiled." This carefully curated exhibition brought together nine exceptional artists, each offering a unique lens through which they perceive and express the complexities of their experiences.
For one transformative week, the Oxo Gallery became a haven for creativity, showcasing bespoke artworks crafted exclusively for this exhibition by the talented roster of Mays Al Moosawi, Sara Ben Abdallah, Amira Nazer, Farah Foudeh, Huda Jamal, Kinda Adly, Yasmina Hilal, Aliyah Al Alawdhi, and Nour Ammar.
"Through Their Eyes" is not confined to the gallery walls, however. Divaz had a conversation with the artists as well as the founders of Hayaty Diaries to know more about the exhibition’s theme, how each artwork reflects it and opens a broader dialogue, and the complex journey of creating Hayaty Diaries in the first place as well as how it provides a platform for artistic exploration.
Hayaty Diaries Artworks Credits:
Aliyah Alawadhi. Emarati, b.1996, The East is a Career, 2023
Mays Almoosawi. Omani, b.1994, Stand Strong in Your Light, 2023
Kinda Adly. Egyptian, b. 1989, Connecting Thoughts, 2023
Huda Jamal. Bahraini, b. 2000, The Madonna and the wh*re, 2023
Huda Jamal. Bahraini, b. 2000, You, 2023
Farah Foudeh. Jordanian, b. 1991, Crevice - شق, c.2023
Yasmina Hilal. Lebanese, b. 1996, Love Birds, 2023
Sara Benabdallah. Moroccan, b.1995, Rhinestone Ngab, 2023
Nour Ammar. Egyptian, b.1998, Tale of Three, 2023
Nour Ammar. Egyptian, b.1998, (a) line, 2023
Amira Nazer. Saudi Arabian, b. 1999, Fidelity / إ ْخلاص, c.2023
How does your artwork in the exhibition reflect or relate to the 'viewer perspective' theme?
Mays Almoosawi: This artwork doesn't just hang on the wall; it invites you to dive right into the scene. As you immerse yourself in this artistic narrative, you become one with the 'viewer perspective' theme. From the comforting warmth of camaraderie to the palpable tension of disagreement, you feel it all. This alignment, the 'viewer perspective' theme, transforms art into a tool for empathy and understanding through which you connect with the artwork and the stories it tells on a more profound level.
Farah Foudeh: I am approaching notions that are generally not approached or discussed much in our culture. As an Arab woman, I have often felt that my body and sexuality have been policed and politicized. I refuse to accept this narrative. This is a celebration of what we are, and the natural elements that give life its colors, an invitation to return back into our bodies and reclaim what is ours. I am using the facades and stones to reach a multidimensionality that is missing from a viewer's image of the desert. I think there is a lot in my work that cannot be dissected and understood in just one glance. They are a sort of visual guide to emotions that are tied to my body, and my experience as a woman, that I can’t find the words to.
Nour Ammar: I created a figurative and an abstract piece that are similar in process and similar in color, but, by doing so, I’m able to show my creative process and create a similar feel of the artworks without having them both be abstract or both be figurative. For me, the process is much more important than the final outcome and my hope is for the process to be visible to my audience. I believe that there are many overlapping emotions and forms and lines between the two types.
Sara Benabdallah: I’d say my approach would be titled embellishing tradition with Western designs. It began by revamping the traditional 'nqab,' a sheer fabric that covers the lower half of the face worn by Moroccan women for centuries. Instead of viewing it as purely traditional, I imbued it with some Western elements. With the help of Hayaty Diaries, I designed intricate "nqabs” and incorporated embroideries inspired by the Rhinestone Cowboy clothing, a striking fusion of Moroccan and American influences. By showcasing this fusion, I aim to challenge stereotypes and promote cultural understanding, transcending superficial differences and appreciating diversity. The most challenging part of the project I’d say was to find artisans who understood the idea behind the project.
Kinda Adly: Art is a reflection of one’s thoughts and emotions, it’s a reflection of life and dreams, it’s a way to escape reality yet it is very real. I paint my imagination, memories and thoughts, while reflecting the world we live in. My art is influenced by my upbringing in Egypt and living in Switzerland, making it relatable to different cultures. Cultures shape ideas, perceptions and influences one’s interpretation of art. Ultimately, it is all about your, the viewer’s, perspective.
Huda Jamal: The pieces featured in the exhibition relate to the theme from distinctive points, with the first artwork titled "You" and focusing on the interaction between the artwork and the viewer. In that painting specifically, the composition includes three women who appear to be judging the viewer, rather than the traditional relationship of the opposite. The other piece, named "The Madonna, and the wh*re," takes a different approach. It sheds light on Sigmund Freud's controversial theory that males can only see women as either saints or promiscuous beings. My objective was to convey the notion without any opposing viewpoints, provoking viewers and enabling viewers to discuss where they stand on the subject in potential conversations.
Aliyah Alawadhi: Combining Ursula K. Le Guin’s “Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction '' and the symbolism of the three goddesses of ancient polytheistic Arabia, the work explores the subversion of canonical perspectives in human history where violence and unrelenting competition is glorified. The erasure of the goddesses illustrate the glorification of destruction in history to usher in new eras. The work speculates on a more entangled history, with no heroes or singular enemies, where, for stories to move forward, it becomes a more complicated and collective struggle, appointing the receptacle (in this case, Manat’s cup) as the ultimate symbol. I also wanted to utilize video, combining documentaries and narratives, to explore the distortion, the fabrication of the absurd and the absence of human presence through the lens of orientalism. Also, the text in the video is an amalgamation, some paraphrased, some not, of common talking points used by famed “Arabist” writers and politicians that later went on to inform much of Western foreign policy with respect to SWANA. The intervention of distortion, blurred lines, exclusion and foreign language into the work is to illustrate the reduction of humanity, the absurdity as well as the adaptations of orientalism to our contemporary time.
Amira Nazer: I am interested in material, both conceptually and physically. My curiosity stems from a question I perpetually ask: What makes something real? Does physicality legitimize reality, or does the concept determine constitution? I don’t presume a universal answer, but I interpret Oscar Wilde’s quote, “It is the spectator, and not life, that art mirrors,” to align with my uncertainty. My work is many different things to many different people; be it a sculpture, a photograph, a shumagh, an artifact, a joke, or laundry, its essence is determined by the viewer. This exhibition encouraged me to take a leap with Fidelity (إخلاص) since the show is centered on the spectator, inviting the viewer to partake in the work as a central contributor, and allowing the many multiplicities I grapple with in the process to materialize in the experience of viewing.
Yasmina Hilal: My artwork’s central idea is the interrelationships of human and nature and how they go hand in hand. The goal was to transcend the typical viewer's observation towards an image and experience it through a different, more interactive and intimate perspective. With “Love Birds” I began by taking several polaroid images of birds, self portraits and a female figure. After doing so, I began deconstructing them by burning them with combustion and adding inks as well. The final stages were building the puzzle to create the end result.
Considering the collective representation of Hayaty Diaries, what impact do you hope this exhibition will have on the audience, particularly regarding perceptions of Arab female artists within the broader art world?
Mays Almoosawi: By coming together as a collective, we challenge the notion that there's a single narrative or representation of Arab women. We celebrate diversity and our unique stories. Participating in such a collective also opens doors to reach a broader audience, creating awareness not only about our art but also about the diverse experiences of Arab women. It provides a platform to foster a broader understanding of our culture and art.
Farah Foudeh: I think there is a thirst for a female Arab voice in the art world. I am grateful to be part of an Arab collective that aims to quench that thirst. It is comforting knowing that I am working with a team that knows me quite personally and can relate to my existence in this world. We need more spaces like this. However, we don’t lose time trying to address our stereotypes, we are just communicating who we are. We are just being because we have the right and the space to just be. I think the exhibition is a wonderful opportunity for the audience to see that the future of the Arab world is female. We are a group of artists who don’t like playing within the rules so we craft our unique voices.
Nour Ammar: I hope this exhibition will communicate strong feelings of courage from myself and other participating artists. In the art world, finding our voices and our places is already challenging within our process and lives. Too often courageous or experimental artworks can be viewed as just too “contemporary” or “modern”.
Sara Benabdallah: I believe that this event is a catalyst for change within the realm of art and representation. By amplifying the voices of Arab female artists, Hayaty Diaries is going to disrupt the status quo and challenge the limitations imposed upon female Arab artists. Through this exhibit, I hope that both artists and viewers alike will discover the transformative potential of breaking free from stereotypes and embracing the vast spectrum of artistic expression.
Kinda Adly: I think the theme of the exhibition “viewer perspective” allows room for debate and exchange of thoughts, which is crucial in changing the stereotypes that usually accompany Arab women. Having female artists from different regions in the Arab world, participating in the exhibition, will further solidify the message and will make room for more topics and challenges to be viewed and discussed.
Huda Jamal: I hope that this exhibition pushes the audience to broaden their perception capacities by exploring new ways to engage with art and to encourage themselves to communicate particular issues by thinking beyond the box that our society constructed for us.
Aliyah Alawadhi: Artists from the Arab world are historically interconnected, there is a shared identity, but there is also diversity in cultural norms, language, religious practices and so on. Participating in such an exhibition, to me, means giving autonomy to a community that has been historically marginalized and essentialized, empowering them to express their own ideas outside of a prescribed image and perhaps, in some cases, being able to directly correct some misinformation. Most importantly, there is the opportunity to reveal a personalized and humanized image of our communities that is unfortunately not made visible or accessible in today’s political climate.
Amira Nazer: I once heard Rick Lowe say that he hopes his paintings provide abstract solutions to concrete problems. I share a similar sentiment. I hope conversations are held. I hope whoever visits the show comes again with their mother or their neighbor. I hope the show introduces works by Arab artists to new audiences, and most importantly, I hope it allows for the work to speak for itself.
Yasmina Hilal: I believe the impact will be great, especially in these current times. It's so important that we keep creating artworks that represent our generations. We, as females in the MENA region, are still fighting for our voices to be heard and I think this exhibition will definitely break some of those boundaries.
Looking forward, how do you see the future of Arab female artists within the global art scene? What changes or advancements do you anticipate, and what role do you aspire to play in shaping the future of Arab female artists' representation and recognition internationally?
Mays Almoosawi: I believe that Arab female artists have already proven their strength and made a mark in the art world internationally. My mission is to be a source of encouragement for other female artists. I want to show them that they too can find their place in the global art scene. It's like a friendly hand reaching out to say, "You've got this!"
Farah Foudeh: I am simply doing what feels true to my being. If that means pursuing art and photography as my medium, I’d be happy to participate in creating a world where younger women know that is possible. A world where we don’t have fear to pursue what feels right for us, whatever that may be. Most importantly a space to proudly claim your space as a woman in a male dominated world. You just need to go out and get it. As an artist, I am doing my part in contributing to the multidimensionality of the photographic experience in the Arab world. Our personal narratives are very much a part of our collective experience.
Nour Ammar: I have very high hopes for female artists within the global art scene, especially Arab female artists. I hope we reach out to fellow artists to learn from one another and to support one another. My hope for shaping the future, especially as an emerging artist, is to encourage others as well as encourage myself to always make my ambitions clear and to create an environment where artists are able to control how their artwork is viewed and displayed. I hope that the global art scene, especially in the Middle East, moves more towards collaborations between artists in the region as well as curators and galleries.
Sara Benabdallah: I think the future of Arab female artists within the global art scene is promising and full of potential. As societies become more inclusive and diverse, there is a growing recognition of the unique perspectives and narratives that Arab female artists bring to the table. Anticipating these changes, I hope that there will be increased representation and visibility for Arab female artists on an international scale.
Kinda Adly: Social media has made everything reachable. It has given everyone a space and voice to be heard internationally. It has also allowed for exchange of ideas and thoughts and for cultures to be seen in a different perspective. This will give Arab female artists more space to be seen, understood and appreciated globally while definitely eliminating the stereotyping that usually accompanies women from the Arab world.
Huda Jamal: I envision a significant rise in recognition and representation of Arab female artists and wish to help shape our future by supporting and amplifying their unique forms of expression and artistic practices. I intend to contribute to a more diverse art community that honors and elevates the creative achievements of Arab women on a global scale by collaborating, connecting, and campaigning for equitable chances to flourish.
Aliyah Alawadhi: I don’t have a plan to change anything on a global scale, I don’t think that’s possible for one person. What I want is to move away from the idea of the singular individual genius archetype, and lean towards achievements through collective effort rather than accrediting all success to individuals. I think keeping in touch and staying grounded with your local community and creating spaces safe for honest expression and discursive thought is one small way to participate in changing the unsatisfying present and imagining a better future for everyone.
Amira Nazer: I hope the title becomes less significant - that our work does not have to be designated as “Arab female” to garner an audience. I hope we show more, share beyond our borders, and build an interest that speaks internationally. For my personal role, I wish to be a porter, and just keep any door I’ve managed to open ajar for anybody who wants to come along.
Yasmina Hilal: Looking forward I believe our voices are going to be louder, especially with the recent events happening. I would love to see more female voices and artists in the future whose aim is to raise awareness on what it means to be an Arab woman. I would also hope that my voice can reach younger artists with a dream to continue in this career and to keep going.
Could you share who your DIVA is? How has this DIVA influenced your work and perspective as an artist?
Mays Almoosawi: My art's guiding star is my amazing mom. She's like a real-life superhero. She's been through ups and downs, and her determination to make life better for us is like the secret ingredient in my art. She's also an artist herself, and she's the one who introduced me to the magical world of creativity early on. Her journey and her endless support are like the wind beneath my artistic wings. Through my art, I'm not just telling her story, but the stories of all the strong women out there who dare to dream big.
Farah Foudeh: My diva would have to be the powerhouse that is Nina Simone as music is the art form that I am most connected to on a daily basis. It is my companion through my darkest times and it elevates me to heights I was unaware of. With Nina, despite having endured so much in life, she transmits so much strength and might. I commend her playfulness and rule breaking. Her voice gives me strength and a taste of what a mighty woman looks like.
Nour Ammar: My first Diva was Georgia Okeefe. She was one of the first artists that was introduced to me and completely brought my attention to large-scale abstract paintings. I first saw her paintings when I was twelve and immediately felt such a strong sense of power and courage, and as an artist, she was always able to stay grounded and stay true to her process in her work.
Sara Benabdallah: My diva is my Tata. Moving back home and living with her has been the best thing, especially after being away from home for so long. Tata's presence in my life has reminded me of the rich cultural heritage that runs through our veins. From her traditional Moroccan dishes to her stories about our ancestors, she has truly become the guiding light on my journey to reconnect with my roots.
Kinda Adly: My Diva is my mother from whom I learned to always evolve and never give up. My artistic journey started after I gave birth to my son. It started as a hobby then turned into a full time job. I am always learning, experimenting and evolving which is reflected in my work over the years.
Huda Jamal: My Diva would be conceptual and performance artist Marina Abramović as she inspires me to always push beyond the limits of art forms, to challenge myself both mentally and physically in exploring unconventional ways of interacting with the audience by using raw emotions and methods to create touching art for people to resonate with.
Aliyah Alawadhi: It changes depending on when I’m asked, but right now, I’m thinking of my mother. Of course there are many artists I can point to; I can think of the vulnerability of Leila Nseir and Louise Bourgeois, the colorful absurdity of Farah Al Qassimi, the surreal fantasies of Leonora Carrington. Now, however, I’m just thinking of my mother. She is a war veteran, a proud divorcee, a runner and a mother to six kids. As I get older, I become more enamored with the details of her life and how her decisions and temperament have shaped my artistic journey. Unraveling her mysteries and deconstructing childhood memories through an adult lens I can finally understand is what is inspiring me at the moment.
Amira Nazer: Safeya Binzagr, Umm Kalthoum, Mona Hatoum, Danya Alsaady, Haifa Wehbe, Hayv Kahraman, Filwa Nazer, Etel Adnan, Latifa Bint Saad, Manal Dowayan, Samia Gamal, Sara Bin Laden, Dana Awartani, and Samia Halaby to name a few. The above, and many more, have deeply influenced my practice and shaped my perspective on what it means to be a woman artist who is also Arab, but I would like to also spotlight a photojournalist, Samar Abu Elouf, whose work I only recently discovered. Her practice epitomizes what it means to survive by making, and has inspired me to never underestimate the power of creating. I admire her commitment to documentation and I’m moved by her photos of life in Gaza. She is a journalist and an artist; Her work has made me promise myself to never find an excuse to put my camera down.
Yasmina Hilal: I would have to say Laure Ghorayeb, who was a Lebanese artist, poet and author. Her work revolves around documenting her people and events in her life, and they have a dark twist to it. Every year for my birthday I go visit one of my favorite artworks of hers at a local museum in Lebanon.