Shurooq Amin is a Kuwaiti artist, poet, and professor at Kuwait University. In two recent art exhibitions, “It’s a Man’s World” and “Society Girls,” Amin has explored themes of gender, identity, duality, religion, and hypocrisy in Middle Eastern and Arab societies. Her colorful mixed-media tableaux depict Kuwaitis in trendy clothes lounging, smoking hookah, and playing cards, their faces all eerily erased.
When I was in middle school, a friend of my parents gave me a sketchbook for a birthday I can’t remember. That sketchbook is in my house back in Arizona somewhere. The pages are full of pencil sketches that shows a time when I didn’t think too much about anything. There was school, homework, some free time, sleep, on repeat. The pages are mainly lots of fashion sketches, to doodles and swirls and hennah designs to magazine cutouts of things that amused me. College happened and work happened and it’s been a while, to say the least. I went onto photography to posting about other artists that I found inspirational and kept thinking about how I should/will eventually go back to doing some of my own.
There was a stint in Bangladesh when out of desperation (and in an attempt to get my mental sanity back) I just took a CNG and went to New Market one day and bought bunch of canvas and oil paint. I didn’t even bother bargaining and asserting my look-at-me-try-to-be-native-ness. I transformed one of the patios in my parents’ empty flat in Shymoli and painted away not thinking much. I eventually had to discard that patio because again, life happened- getting ready for grad school, going to social events, wrapping up my time. I just left my supplies there and have no idea how much dust has gathered around my paintings. (There was one painting, oil on canvas, of a deconstructed American flag, with just one diagonal white stripe. I painted this to spite my then-someone who was annoyed at me for missing home so much. It happens.)
I don’t know what it is about San Francisco that made me look up art supplies and make the walk today to Flax in SoMa.
I was feeling the same kind of unnecessary loneliness/desperation I did in Dhaka over a year ago, but also the need to get back to something that used to make me happy. When I entered the store, I was reminded back not of Arizona but Japan, when I was, for some reason, obsessed with stationary supplies and gel pens.
The high ceiling warehouse-esque art supply store was full of all types of paper and pen and amazing craft supplies. Everything smelled clean and new, waiting to be used. I left the place with just one, simply 5×8 black bound sketchbook.
The founder, Herman Flax moved out west during the Great Depression from New Jersey and opened this magical place in downtown SF in 1938. His brother became involved and Sam Flax opened the now art-supply chain.
The New York Times said it best:
From their glass-counter fiefs, Flax’s staff oversees a Willie Wonka factory of paper, ink and innovation. The large paper room of custom-made steel flat files holds about 9,000 varieties, ranging from pressed sheets with “floral inclusions” … to a Japanese silk-screened printed paper, or washi, at more than $20 a sheet.
I love this city.
I will post some sketches soon.
Flax Art and Design, 1699 Market Street, San Francisco; (415) 552-2355
Graffiti culture is an urban, male-dominant sphere. Most popular graffiti work has been associated with New York City, where from the 1970s, youth-dominant “hip-hop graffiti” emerged as a means of “ghetto expression” of urban culture (and urban decay). Graffiti continues to be a means of “doing art” with explicit knowledge of its legal precautions, a.k.a. it’s now allowed. That is probably what makes graffiti a popular form of expression– you are not supposed to spray paint public and private properties with images that denounces social norms, or things we are uncomfortable about.
It is not wonder that some of the best graffiti art work has been associated with revolutions (e.g. Berlin Wall).
With the uprisings that continue to take place in North Africa and the Middle East, the graffiti scene has been of particular interest to me because 1) they are quite beautiful and 2) a lof of them are being taken up by young women. I first observed the work online more from an artistic point of view; I have always been fascinated by female artists from the Arab region because inevitably, politics and their ownership of their bodies are always tried to it. Here, it is without saying that the graffiti work by Egypt’s young female artists are, is, and will be political.
Mostly, what draws my attention to Cairo and Alexandria is the fact that these are young women expressing their work in a male dominant sphere, challenging the notion of femininity and what it means to be a woman in society, at large.
Graffiti has always been a male dominant area. New York City’s subway stations carry some of the best work, most, if not all, completed by young men. It is without saying that even in America, men are the artists who get to carry the spray pain and dictate what goes on those abandoned walls. It is not a East-West, North-South thing.
Egypt, like many of its neighbors, is a region where female expression has been indirectly silenced. Of course, women have been a big part of the revolution. Their voices continue to matter and they are not being directly silenced (as they are in the Gulf regions, for example). In an area that has historically and repeatedly limited the development of female expression, combined with a very strong patriarchal culture embedded along all social lines, the work of anonymous female Egyptian artists in Cairo’s walls are invaluable.
It’s public. It’s contemporary. It’s words/things we still don’t like to throw around. It’s maybe even a way for Egyptian women to take agency of their bodies and their place in heated politics. It’s political.
Please check out Women on Wall, an artistic campaign and collaboration that took place in Luxor, Mansoura, Cairo and Alexandria to use graffiti art to express the female agency and empowerment. (womenonwall.com).
These sample art work from students at Rajuk Uttara Model School (RUMS) illustrate that a common theme to showcase in classroom art work are scenes of the Bangladeshi village. Huts, rice patties, hills, rivers, boats, and figures in traditonal clothing are some of the most common subjects present in art by students from all grade levels. They are usually drawn with crayons or water colors, and are usually very bright and vibrant on paper. The second most popular theme is the revolutionary war of 1971. Abstract art was not included in any of the samples I had a chance to see.
The village theme’s popularity in children’s art is interesting because almost all of the students at RUMS were born and raised in the city. Additionally, increasinly it can be observed that the parents of 1990s children were also raised in Dhaka. Thus one must wonder why villages become a repeated topic in art since the village scene is so different from that of Dhaka city.
One student told me that they are asked to draw “something beautiful” in their art class and that usually resonates the village scene. He explained that the village is more calm, quiet, and shows “natural beauty” that is present in most of Bangladesh but not in the city. Thus, being told to draw something beautiful meant drawing something outside the city.
Another student told me that often art class means drawing what the teacher tells you to, and what the teacher wants to see. These teachers will often assign the drawing of village scenes, and this initial teaching sticks to the children afterwards. In order to get the grade, you have to please the instructor, who has made his or her desire for such themes apparent. These teachers are also more likely to be more connected to the village than their students in Dhaka. This logic follows for art competitions as well where to win, drawing the most splendid scenaries does the trick.
Village scenes represents a certain nostalgia for what is missing in the city- cleaner air, people not in hurry, landscapes void of clumped together buildings, trees without the residue of pollution, and such. These scenes as represented by children of the city in school art classes showcase a divide of the urban and rural. It also works in an interesting way to connectgenerations widely different in history, lifestyle, and mobility.
Against the regime’s version of top-down culture, the protesters have created a defiantly popular egalitarian and confrontational culture of their own. While Egypt’s intellectual class may be internally divided, the people in the square have, for now, drawn very clear lines in the sand. In the words of Negm, often chanted in Tahrir: “Who are they, and who are we? / They are the authority, the sultans. / They are the rich, and the government is on their side. / We are the poor, the governed. / Think about it, use your head. / See which one of us rules the other.”
Sidibie just featured in New York Time’s Nifty 50.
Blogger Stephen Heyman states that the ” holiday season provided Sidibe with a novel respite: a chance to get back to her old self.” Get it straight: Gabourey Sidibe is not Precious. This is difficult for some of Sidibe’s fans to grasp. “Most people understand the point of the film — it deals with abuse, and neglect, and self-esteem,” she said in a recent phone interview. “They just don’t get that I’m a real person. And I tell them, ‘This is not my story. That didn’t happen to me.’”
Sidibie was also recently veatured on both Vogue and Bazaar magazine. She told Bazaar:
I feel like a model. It justifies everyone in my life who told me I wouldn’t be anything until I lost weight. It justifies that little girl who cried because she didn’t think she could be in front of the camera. And it’s for other girls who feel like they can’t do this or that and feel like they’re not pretty and not worthy of having their photo taken.
The roles that she has been getting offered for have not been rosy ones, including playing a bully and playing in a dark comedy. And of course articles written about her since have focused on her “sefl-esteem”, weight, etc. And she has expressed that it upset her how critics have foused on her overweight body more so as a charateristic in the movie Precious. It would be interesting to see if the buzz around her would not ask about the obvious (thought I think you can’t get away with it- the weight factor definately makes this whole situation unique, especially in Hollywood). It is certainly healthy to see her embrace the fact, and claim that she does not feel the pressure to lose weight (would that mke her, giving in?).
The girl is cute; asked about ads:
“I’d probably advertise cherry soda. Cherry soda … um, muffins … something sexy … I know, cherry-muffin soda!”
In a culture of concealment, the significance of the visible is heightened. The fragments of the body that can be shown symbolically represent all that cannot be shown and cannot be said. This makes them eloquent and multivalent.
Friday …it is also a day on which the long Friday prayers and sermons, so important to Islamists, are held at the mosque. A day when morality and order are invoked and defined, when the mullahs of Iran often speak to crowds of thousands, who then chant their propaganda slogans. Rhythmically, ecstatically.
By Parastou Forouhar