featured culturalist: founder of banat collective sara bin safwan

part of the 4-part interview series for issue #5: "reclaiming empowerment" 

From "A Woman Called Freedom" photo-series by artist Sarra'a Abdulaziz. Source: Banat Collective. 

From "A Woman Called Freedom" photo-series by artist Sarra'a Abdulaziz. Source: Banat Collective. 

Sara is the founder and creator of Banat Collective, a creative community made in response to the lack of artist spaces and discussions about womanhood in the Middle East. Banat Collective is one of the few platforms that tackle female representation in the region's art scene making their work especially pertinent to today's cultural landscape. Below is our interview with Sara: 

Hi Sara! Tell us a bit about yourself. (The facts and the quirks!)

I’m Sara Bin Safwan, Founder & Curator of Banat Collective, from Abu Dhabi. I am half-honduran and half-emirati. I have a bachelor's degree in Culture, Criticism and Curation from Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London. I’m currently living in Abu Dhabi and work as an Assistant Curator for Guggenheim Abu Dhabi.

In this issue of follow the halo, “reclaiming empowerment” is our inspiration. What does empowerment mean to you?

Empowerment, for me, means to take ownership and a sense of agency over the things you do. I believe that it is the right of any human to have the ability to have and share their own opinions (within reason) and be themselves without the fear of being judged, hated or scrutinized. With Banat Collective, empowerment is a key factor of how we run - we offer a space where ideas and thoughts can be shared and heard and giving a platform for these things are important for growing our society to a more accepting place.

As a curator how do your roots/heritage influence your work?

With my job as a curator, I like to share ideas and ask questions that are geared towards my interests of social, gender and political issues. My whole life I have been asking myself questions about my own identity and background which has impacted my research and growth as a person a lot. Being of mixed-race, mixed-religious backgrounds, growing up became confusing. So whenever I make art or come across art that are trying to answer the same questions as I do in my personal life, I become really fascinated because it helps me understand my own personal history as well as understand that many other people are asking the same things.

Image from "Lollipop" film (2018) by Hanaa AlFassi. Source: Banat Collective 

Image from "Lollipop" film (2018) by Hanaa AlFassi. Source: Banat Collective 

It is apparent in Banat Collective’s features that you prioritize the voices of young emerging artists and creatives. How do you choose your features?

I think it’s important to lend a platform to artists who may or may not have found their ground as a creative. Our features don’t really go through a heavy process that decide on how we ‘choose’ an artist however, we tend to go with artists who have a strong ideas that are communicated well through their work. Being that my background and current work is focused on contemporary art, I do lean towards showing that however we also look for writers, poets, graphic designers, textile designers, musicians and curators. The most important thing for when I look through someone’s work is that it speaks to me and makes me want to find out more about their work.

What are your sentiments on the current growing art scene in the Middle East? In your opinion what are its strengths and what are its challenges?

Art from the Middle East and North Africa is thriving and developing in so many ways. Especially in the Gulf, there is a lot of funding being made towards to the arts which is becoming increasingly beneficial to the growth of the arts landscape. However, there is a lack of critical evaluation of arts (and everything else for that matter) which makes everything monotonous. I hope that the media, schools and larger institutions become more critical of how they talk about and showcase art.

In your opinion, how can audiences better empower artists and the creative sector in the region?

Repeating what I said above - I think it’s important to be critical and have the ability to ask the right questions when you are looking at or  thinking about art. Art can be fun and visually appealing but I think in order for an artist to grow and develop their practice as well as develop the conversations that are happening around art - audiences should be more critical and engage in what they are looking at.

Where do you see the creative sector in the Middle East going, considering its growing influence on social media platforms?

I love the current online arts movement that is happening. I think that it’s a place where there is a truthful representation of what’s going on the Middle East because it’s coming from the perspective of an individual and not the media or a politician. There is a growing sense of community, collectivity and connectivity between people sharing their ideas and work. I think if we can implement what we do online into the real world then that's already a huge step towards the right direction.

What advice might you give young aspiring artists from the region?

Keeping sharing, producing work and collaborate with other people. And do not wait for someone to come and find you. We’re most likely going to be looking at your work if you directly message us and engage with us.

What are your plans for Banat Collective in the future?

To keep collaborating and sharing art from the region. We’re hoping to bring more writing content for the website. Additionally working on connecting creatives in the real world through our panels and meet ups.

You can learn more about Banat Collective and their work on banatcollective.com or on their instagram @banatcollective 

Banat Collective recently released a visual book in collaboration with 31 female artists. You can shop the book on their website. 

Banat Collective recently released a visual book in collaboration with 31 female artists. You can shop the book on their website.