The Middle East Institute's (MEI) Arts and Culture Program was pleased to host a panel conversation examining the critical role Middle Eastern women play in building more stable and tolerant communities through the lens of the arts.
The panel took place in conjunction with programming around I AM, an exhibition of 31 Middle Eastern women contemporary artists from 12 countries, at the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center, with a general public opening reception on September 9. Organized by CARAVAN, an international NGO that focuses on building bridges through the arts, the exhibition highlights the role that Middle Eastern women play in their societies and the power of the arts to articulate their ambitions.
The panel featured three participating artists and a scholar of women's issues and was moderated by NPR's Neda Ulaby. The panelists drew upon their experiences to challenge common misconceptions about women in the region and explore how the arts can serve as a form of creative and non-violent resistance.
I AM will be on view at the American University Museum from September 5 until October 22, 2017 before touring the United States until the end of 2018. MEI's Arts and Culture Program is proud to serve as the Washington, D.C. partner and co-host of the exhibition program. Before coming to the US, I AM premiered at the National Gallery of Fine Arts in Amman, Jordan, and was then exhibited on London's Trafalgar Square at St. Martin-in-the-Fields.
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Alia Ali (Yemen), Artist
Alia Ali is Austrian born, Yemeni and Bosnian by blood, American by rights and mobility, global by education, and Moroccan by residence. In response to the bold statement, “I AM,” the artist investigates the theme in terms of what she is not. To label oneself is to willingly cast oneself in a static mold; yet, each day, as we respond both to major events and to minute decisions, we recast who we are by discovering what we are not. In her auto-portrait, Ali uses woven newspaper to create a barrier between herself and the viewer. She is both the photographer and the subject, the observed and the observer. In this piece, she questions the fabricated barriers in society that vilify the other. Who holds the power to create an identity? How can we break through the lens through which another views us? Perhaps it is better for us to embrace the multiple layers of what creates our complex identities by living on the borders of all what we are rather than continually struggling with abridged stereotypes imposed by others. This leaves the question of what do we really know of anyone? Aren’t we all enveloped in stereotypes created by the other? The more we allow these labels to seep into our judgment, the more of a boundary we weave between each other, becoming both the victim and the culprit, all at once.
Lulwa Al Khalifa (Bahrain), Artist
Lulwa Al-Khalifa is a self-taught painter who has never had any formal instruction in art. She earned a BA from Boston University in Literature, which helped her form her outlook on creative pursuits as a whole. She works primarily with oil paints and her paintings are characterised by their bold and vibrant colours. Al-Khalifa creates movement in her works achieved through her textured brush strokes and the manipulation of the paint on her canvas. Her artistic interests were cultivated by a childhood where was encouraged to appreciate art in all its forms. Al-Khalifa has exhibited locally in Bahrain as well as internationally, in London, New York and Miami. From The Outside 2 is part of her "From The Outside" series that explores boundaries and perception. There are preconceived ideas that the world has regarding Middle Eastern women that paints them all in one color, and this series demonstrates that the women of the Middle East are just as diverse, nuanced and layered as women everywhere else.
Helen Zughaib (Lebanon-USA), Artist
Helen Zughaib was born in Beirut, Lebanon, living mostly in the Middle East and Europe before coming to the United States to study art. Zughaib currently lives in Washington, DC, and works fulltime as an artist. She paints primarily in gouache and ink on board and canvas. More recently, she has worked with wood, shoes and cloth and mixed media installations. Her work has been widely exhibited in galleries and museums in the United States, Europe and Lebanon. Her paintings are included in many private and public collections, including the White House, World Bank, Library of Congress, US Consulate General, Vancouver, Canada, American Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, the Arab American National Museum in, Michigan, and the DC Art Bank collection. She recently was awarded a grant from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities and currently included in the new Washingtonia Collection, in Washington, DC. Helen was also invited as artist in residence at George Mason University, Virginia, and Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC. Her paintings have been included in several Art in Embassy exhibitions abroad, including Brunei, Nicaragua, Mauritius, Iraq, Belgium and Lebanon. In 2008, Zughaib was invited as U.S. cultural envoy through the U.S. Department of State to Palestine, where she led a month- long workshop with Palestinian women artists from the West Bank. This exhibit, entitled “Women’s Art, Women’s Vision,” presented an opportunity for both American and Palestinian women to share their stories and culture while celebrating International Women’s History Month. In 2009, she was invited to Switzerland and France, under the U.S. Department of State’s Speaker and Specialist Program, to share her work with universities and schools. In October 2016, she traveled to Saudi Arabia as U.S. Cultural Envoy, to speak to young Saudi women artists and exhibiting her work at the Quincy House in Riyadh. Her paintings have been gifted to heads of state by President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Neda Ulaby (Moderator), Reporter, National Public Radio arts desk
Neda Ulaby reports on arts, entertainment, and cultural trends for NPR's Arts Desk. Scouring the various and often overlapping worlds of art, music, television, film, new media and literature, Ulaby's radio and online stories reflect political and economic realities, cultural issues, obsessions and transitions, as well as artistic adventurousness— and awesomeness. Over the last few years, Ulaby has strengthened NPR's television coverage both in terms of programming and industry coverage and profiled breakout artists such as Ellen Page and Skylar Grey and behind-the-scenes tastemakers ranging from super producer Timbaland to James Schamus, CEO of Focus Features. Her stories have included a series on women record producers, an investigation into exhibitions of plastinated human bodies, and a look at the legacy of gay activist Harvey Milk. Her profiles have brought listeners into the worlds of such performers as Tyler Perry, Ryan Seacrest, Mark Ruffalo, and Courtney Love.
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