Art in Sharjah: a new vista for Muslim women
By: Sarah Young
Artists in the UAE are calling people to visit a new online exhibition to expose themselves to the plight and success of Muslim women around the world, and challenge common stereotypes.
Artist and University of Sharjah College of Fine Arts and Design lecturer Dr Fatima Zahra Hassan said Emirati women, in particular, should view a new online exhibition (http://muslima.imow.org) showcasing the stories of Muslim women from around the world.
“I just feel that women here are not exposed, especially some Emirati women…they’re living in a cocoon…a utopia which is perfect and some don’t know what is happening outside and how women are suffering around the world.”
Hassan is one of the three Sharjah-based artists featuring on Muslima: Muslim Women’s Arts and Voices, which is a global online exhibition from the International Museum of Women, incorporating art and the written word to explore identity and break stereotypes.
Originally from Pakistan, Hassan trained at the London Royal College in Indo-Islamic, Mughal and Persian Painting techniques, with an emphasis on Art of Book.
Hassan, Sharjah-based painter Haafiza Sayed and writer Dalia Merzaban will be holding workshops about their crafts and how their art forms have helped develop their identity, followed by a panel discussion, “How do you know who I am”, at the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilisation today.
Hassan added the exhibition had really opened her own eyes up to both positive and negative aspects of being a Muslim woman.
“The texts, images and photos were really overwhelming.
“But I got to know more about the positive things about Muslim women all over the world.”
Hassan has done a lot of voluntary work in Pakistan and the UK, including in flood refugee camps with women and children.
“So I had seen so much misery and tragedy… but this exhibition showed a much broader side of Muslim women. I came to know about a (Pakistani) woman who just reached the peak of Mt Everest… and then I did a lot of research about women in developing countries who had achieved a lot, and working in areas that are very uncommon for women to work in.”
Despite the perception that art was not a career, meaning many creatives here went into interior design, multimedia or graphic design instead, there were a growing number of female Arab artists coming through, she said. However, not many newer Emirati artists were dealing with women’s issues.
“Because most of these women are coming from privileged backgrounds so they can’t think of issues, apart from being more free and independent … they have got everything.
“If you look at the (exhibition) website, the best works are from American, Iranian, Afghan and Pakistani American artists. The photos are really outstanding…really thought-provoking concepts and ideas.” Sayed, originally from India and who has lived in Sharjah for five years, said that even if a “a small part of worldwide opinion about Muslim women (is changed as a result of the exhibition), it (is) a step forward.”
She got involved because it was a chance to challenge recognized stereotypes associated with Muslim women.
“We’re constantly being judged by our appearances and attire… (people think) we’re oppressed, we don’t have a life, maybe we are not educated, that we belong to a society that dominates us. Yes there are some societies like that, but look at the UAE …women are working and having all kinds of jobs.”
These stereotypes came from both outside and within their own community, she said. “If you don’t stick to a particular way of dressing, you’re labelled un-Islamic or astray…that’s what my second painting is about…she is judged in and out of her own community no matter what she wears.”
Sayed will be talking at the workshop about how she found herself through art. After “getting lost” and losing the will to paint following her formal training, she became an interior designer and only years later picked up the paintbrush again, determined to ‘unlearn’ what she knew, and rediscover her own style.
“Since then, I have grown spiritually through my art…10 years ago, if someone asked me what I liked, I wouldn’t know what to say…now I know what gives me pleasure, what inspires and drives me.”