arab women

remembering miss universe 1971

Georgina Rizk, Miss Universe 1971

Georgina Rizk, Miss Universe 1971

Last Thursday night, my mother proudly proclaimed, “check out my smokey eye - don’t you think I look like Georgina Rizk?”

My mother, a lover of natural make-up and vintage fashion, seldom does a smokey eye. She’s an au naturale kind of woman and rarely opts for the sultry beauty standards of the Arab world. Yet, that night, my mother seemed particularly inclined towards a ‘smokey-eye’, and was quite proud of her ability to make dark eyeliner look good despite - in her opinion - her age. “I am so good at this, I could totally be a make up artist! You know, I could’ve been better than all these so-called designers in Europe, I could’ve been, you know, a true artist. If only I had the opportunities and exposure as a child…” she trails off. “Anyway, I definitely look like Georgina Rizk”.

In 1970, Lebanon announced Georgina Rizk the winner of the nation’s beauty pageant and crowned her Miss Lebanon. She was crowned Miss Universe in Miami, Florida only a year later. She was the first woman from the Middle East to be crowned Miss Universe, and only 4th in Asia to ever win the title. My mom must have been around 4 years old at the time.

For many young Arab women, Georgina Rizk was an icon. She was beautiful and symbolised a kind of “liberation” that was revered by the then youth of the Middle East. She controversially once said that she was “for pre-marital sex” and thought that women should “experiment” before making a commitment because “marriage is not a simple thing”. This, of course, did not go down well with the older generation, but many women in the region idolised her anyway.

In 1972, when Georgina Rizk was due to hand over the Miss Universe crown to her successor in Puerto Rico, 17 Christian pilgrims from the island were killed in an attack on Lod Airport in Tel Aviv by the Japanese Red Army - a militarised Communist group acting on behalf of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Ms Rizk was, despite having nothing to do with the incident, banned from attending the ceremony in Puerto Rico.

That year, my mom must’ve been 5 years old - her family in a state of disarray having only left Palestine five years prior. As refugees, my Grandmother collected her children - all 5 of them my mother being the youngest - and moved to Jordan. Without knowing it, so much of my mother’s potential would be defined by forces outside of her control. In the mid-80s, when the Soviet Union was still supporting Palestinian rights, my mother obtained a scholarship to study Fine Arts in Kiev, Ukraine. About a month before she was due to attend the University of Kiev, an earthquake devastated the capital. My grandmother wouldn’t let my mother leave and my mother never got the chance to become the artist she wanted to be. My mom was, despite having nothing to do with the earthquake or the geopolitics of the region, forced to limit herself.

Georgina Rizk was banned from attending the Miss Universe ceremony in Puerto Rico due to “terrorist activities” which had nothing to do with her. The attacks were committed by the Japanese (she’s clearly not Japanese) on Occupied Palestinian soil (a place she is not from: her father is Lebanese and mother Hungarian). Funnily enough, a few years after the attack on Lod Airport, Ms. Rizk married a Palestinian man who was responsible for attacks during the 1972 Olympics in Munich (he was assassinated by the Mossad in 1979).

In many ways, Georgina Rizk’s life was defined for her too.

. . .

Many people think that Occupation and colonialism end at check points and borders but for me, it’s been inside my home my entire life. I look back at the privileges that my parents never got to experience simply because of their history and, therefore, the privileges I never got either. I sometimes wonder what “could have been” - I can’t escape the could-have-would-have. I guess its a symptom of inter-generational trauma.

Despite all this, my mother thoroughly enjoys a Thursday night smokey-eye courtesy of Georgina Rizk, Miss Universe 1971.

featured culturalist: libyan poet and author farrah fray 

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

Portrait of Farrah courtesy of the artist 

Portrait of Farrah courtesy of the artist 

Like many of the women in the arts that inspire me, I met Farrah online. Farrah is a Libyan author, poet and artist based in London. She recently published a poetry collection titled "The Scent of My Skin" that explores culture, displacement, feminism and what it means have grown up in Libya and London. Farrah is also an editor for Banat Collective and a contributor to Khabar Keslan, below is our interview with her: 

Hi Farrah! Tell us a little bit about yourself (the facts and the quirks!)

Hi! Well I’m a Libyan author and creative based in London. I’m 23 and I also study translation; a quirk, hmm- I really like cliches! In the sense of taking a cliche and rendering it to its absolute extreme to make a point about things; I’m a sucker for t shirts with “LOVE 4 EVER” and that kinda thing.

As an artist, writer, and poet, how does your heritage/identity influence your work?

Being Libyan influences my work so much! Even if what I’m writing isn’t quintessentially Libyan or about Libya, somehow it becomes about Libya and being a Libyan diaspora. My thoughts, feelings, and experiences are informed by my background and journey; your identity follows you wherever you go, so it’s definitely really present in my work.

Source: www.farrahfray.com

Source: www.farrahfray.com

In this issue, "reclaiming empowerment" is our inspiration. What does empowerment mean to you?

I guess empowerment means feeling brave enough to take on the things that scare you the most. I mean, for so long I didn’t even think that I should be writing about Libyan women, or displacement, or feminism; but reading other peoples’ work and journeys makes you feel empowered; it makes you feel like, yes, I can write about these things. The kind of fear I’m referring to isn’t just fear of criticism or censorship, but I suppose also the fear of breaking the glass ceiling, and doing the things you should; that kind of fear is often taught from a young age, and I think empowerment is about reclaiming your position in that power dynamic. Oppression often works because of fear so empowerment for me means overcoming both fear and oppression.

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

The current arts scene in the Middle East is thriving, I’m besotted by it all really. I think the strengths include that it’s not just one genre of art that’s emerging, but that they’re all taking up this space, you see anything from installations to zines to short films. Another strength is that art in the Middle East, much like a lot of contemporary art doesn’t really rely on industry gatekeepers for validation, there’s so many wonderful platforms created by people who want their voices heard and don’t necessarily have a professional background in art. I think a big challenge for Middle Eastern art will be overcoming stereotypes from the West; as more and more of our art reaches western art circles, which is a great thing; I feel like it’s definitely a challenge with certain issues to be like; yes, these things do affect us and are part of our daily struggles, but don’t stereotype us as just one thing; or define us by that one experience. I also think over generalization is a big challenge; even within countries you get different subcultures and communities, creating art; and to generalize all art coming from different regions as “Middle Eastern” can be quite reductive.

"June and July" poem by Farrah Fray courtesy of the writer

"June and July" poem by Farrah Fray courtesy of the writer

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

I think we can empower artists by continuing to create these platforms for meaningful discussion, but also holding different events and talks where you get to really see the people you’re influencing. I think so often it can feel like you’re in a black hole as a creative, so it’s definitely important to have those types of spaces!

What advice would you give aspiring artists in the region?

I’d say definitely give it your all; and remember that there are so many other people creating art, too. Whenever you feel apprehensive about creating something is to ask yourself “if not me, then who?” because no one else can do exactly what you want to do in precisely the way you want to do it. It might be the same concept but there’s no way it would be an identical reiteration; so do it. Your voice is unique and important.

What are your future plans?

I’ve got a lot of exciting things coming up this year, but I suppose generally, the plan is to be more versatile with my work and combine it with other disciplines such as translation, which I’m currently studying. Think installations and subtitles! I really want to show that poetry can be showcased in many different ways, and I’m really looking forward to sharing it with everyone.

"Rooftop" by visual artist Ahmed Drebika www.drebika.ca

"Rooftop" by visual artist Ahmed Drebika www.drebika.ca

For more about Farah and to follow her work you can find her on farrahfray.com or on instagram @farrahfray

featured culturalist: hind joucka founder of 'artmejo'

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

"Fertility" by Yazan Setabouha courtesy of artmejo

"Fertility" by Yazan Setabouha courtesy of artmejo

Hind Joucka is the founder of Jordan's first online platform for the arts 'artmejo'. I met Hind on a sunny morning in Dubai during Art Season where she had just attended the launch of MoMA's latest publication "Modern Art in the Arab World" - which features her grandfather's work on the cover - and we immediately hit it off! Hind's fierce passion for the arts is contagious and her pioneering energy is undeniable. Hind's late grandfather, Syrian artist Mahmoud Hammad, is known for pioneering Modern Art in the region and I truly believe that the apple does not fall far from the tree. 

As a woman and as a pioneer for the creative scene in Jordan it only made sense to feature Hind as part of the series. Below is our interview: 

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

I am an art journalist based in Jordan, founder of the online gallery ‘artmejo’, a platform for artists and art enthusiasts to connect and explore new talents in the region, and co-founder of ‘Art at the Park’, a cultural fair that brings together art, music, literature and dance. I also give art tours around Amman with Airbnb and work as an Online Marketing manager for The Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts. In between juggling work, I like to pick up a new hobby every once in a while that I know I’ll eventually get bored of and quit after a month or two!

How did you begin your journey with artmejo?

artmejo was created back in 2014 as a university project when I was studying Journalism at Kingston University, London. I came up with the idea of an online platform specifically focused on the art scene in Jordan, that aims to bring together all art events and activities happening in the country under one umbrella. Galleries’ online presence wasn’t as widespread as it is today, which meant that if you were interested in attending art exhibitions, you had to be on the gallery’s mailing list. What we’re trying to do is to make all these events and activities, which are already free and open to the public, more accessible to everyone. Around two years ago I decided to quit my full-time and my half-time jobs and focus all my time and energy on artmejo. Today, artmejo’s services have slowly grown to cater for areas which were otherwise missing in the art scene here in Amman. We provide various services to galleries, artists and clients by linking them with one another, selling artworks and curating spaces. I’m proud of all the small feats that have come along the way, but the project I’m the most proud of is the Marriott Amman Hotel lobby curation project. I learned a lot from that experience and I got to work with three of the country’s top galleries to create a homogenous collection of artworks by artists from all over the region.

"Mountain" by Adnan Samman courtesy of artmejo

"Mountain" by Adnan Samman courtesy of artmejo

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

Empowerment is synonymous to expression. It is being strong and confident enough to express yourself and your opinions despite social and political stricture. It is letting your inhibitions run wild and free no matter what medium you choose to do it through. No one grants us empowerment - it is within us, we create our paths and we decide what’s wrong or right. It goes beyond gender, race and class.

"Almost night" by Ghadeer Abu Bukha courtesy of Artmejo

"Almost night" by Ghadeer Abu Bukha courtesy of Artmejo

As a curator, art buyer, and journalist, how do your roots/heritage influence your view of the art world and love for the arts?

I come from a family of artists starting from my grandparents, down to my parents and brothers. My grandfather Mahmoud Hammad and my grandmother Dora Fakhoury were part of the modern art movement in Syria and the Middle East, my father is an architect and artist and my mother is currently working on a catalogue raisonne for my late grandfather. I’ve been attending exhibitions since I was 8 years old and I’m convinced that the more we open ourselves to all types of art, the better we get to understand an artist’s work, their unique style, technique and any overlying or underlying motifs within a piece of work. Of course, growing up surrounded by a specific style of art inadvertently influences your taste but I’m fascinated by anything created through a person’s imagination and skill.

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?

It’s honestly such an exciting time for art in the region and in the world in general. The whole world is now connected online, making it easier for artists to showcase their works and for people to open up to new styles. Artists from different cultures and backgrounds are creating movements of self expression and pushing boundaries, and the online revolution is allowing them to spread beyond physical borders. The challenges? Our region is unfortunately riddled with political and religious unrest, which in turn is building a gap between Eastern and Western art scenes. Surroundings feed into an artwork’s subject matter more often than not, and so we see a lot of works from this region being influenced by conflict. Wars have birthed influential art throughout the years, such as Pablo Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ and Palestinian artist Ismail Shammout’s ‘Odyssey of a People’, so I think this aspect of it shouldn’t be viewed as a challenge, but more of a reality that we’re living.

"Single Man" by artist Kholoud Abu Hijleh courtesy of Artmejo

"Single Man" by artist Kholoud Abu Hijleh courtesy of Artmejo

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

We have to value the artist and the artwork they create equally. Ask any upcoming artist about the word they hate the most and they will tell you it’s ‘exposure’, because this is the word often used as an excuse when a job or a project doesn’t have enough budget to pay the artist. It’s frustrating because this ‘alternative’ to getting paid isn’t used in other careers. Obviously exposure is very important and some work is sometimes worth doing for free, but it shouldn’t be the new normal to ask an artist to put time and effort into an artwork without providing them with tangible return. This is how we can empower the artists of now; present them with opportunities that allow them to sustain themselves and continue working within their passion as a feasible career path.

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

What I’m about to say might be contradictory to my previous answer, but my top advice is for them to collaborate! Merging creativity and talent with like-minded or completely opposite-minded people is wonderful and everyone learns something new through it. As I said before, we’re living in the time of amazing technology that allows us to reach out to people from across the world with a click of a button. Get in touch with other artists that you admire no matter where they are and explore ways where you can collaborate on a project together. Chances are, they’ll get flattered and will be excited to brainstorm ideas!

What are your plans for the future?

I am currently working with Jordanian artist Sama Shahrouri on artmejo’s online magazine. This will be an informative publication for creatives to express their views on art in the region, and will delve into art exhibitions, events and conversations happening in the art world on both a local and international scale. I hope we’ll be able to keep coming up with new ideas and projects that further enrich the art scene in Jordan and in neighbouring countries, encourage up and coming artists and link them with one another.

artmejo was recently commissioned by Edraak.org, an initiative of Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah's foundation, to bring local artists together for a collaborative project. artmejo is also a platform for art collectors, artists and art loves alike. For more about Hind's work and artmejo you can follow them on instagram @artmejo or www.artmejo.com 

To learn more about artmejo you can find them on www.artmejo.com or @artmejo on instagram. 

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. 

daily inspiration: the pleasure principles 

source: topic.com shot by Yumna Al Arashi

source: topic.com shot by Yumna Al Arashi

It's not the first time I feature the work of Yumna Al Arashi on my blog - for as long as I can recall Yumna's work as been inspirational to me. As an Arab and as woman and as an aspiring documentarian her work touches me. Her latest project, "The Pleasure Principles", which she shot for topic.com, resonated with me on an other-worldly level. I thought it deserved a post of its own. 

Although I have been aware of the project for over a month, Yumna's latest newsletter motivated me to write about it. I love that she shared her thought process behind the project, in the delicate, poignant way she does everything. The Pleasure Principles is a photo-essay that challenges the notion that the Middle East is devoid of sexuality and sensuality, and more specifically, that Islam is a religion that denounces sexual pleasure. I would love to go on about the project myself, but Yumna explains the concept more concinvingly than I ever could, so here is an excerpt from her newsletter: 

"About a year ago, I attended a conference in London where I spoke about the work I create. A man there told me that making erotic art was a Western made concept - that I wasn’t respecting my culture and history because of my interests in human sensuality. 

I immediately remembered a text translated by Sir Richard Burton, The Perfumed Garden. His introduction threw praises at the Arabs for their ability to please the senses and enjoy the delights of humanity; everything from incense, music, fabric and sexual desires. He specifically stated that without the influence of culture from the East, the West would be stuck in the dark ages... Soon after that conference, I found my way back to that book, but with a desire to find more like it. My treasure was overwhelming. 

Source: topic.com (additional note: the model here is my sister, Rama Ghanem) 

Source: topic.com (additional note: the model here is my sister, Rama Ghanem) 

My ancestors were perverts.

Edward Said was famous for coining the term “orientalism,” the infamous ways in which we as non-white people, have been rendered in imagery, tales, and stereotypes. Orientalism has ultimately led to an unbudging view of who we are to the white man. This includes our sexualities. For long, the majority of artwork about my ancestors was made by white men, and still is. We have been fetishised and demonized, from images of harems as sex concubines for men, to Disney’s Aladdin, and even now, Sex with Refugees. Arab movements towards conservatism have left many of us who do wish to speak for our own bodies too scared to do so, or censored completely. I want to take ownership of our sensuality and the imagery that is created around it.

There are many heroes out there who are doing the work of reopening our worlds, and speaking on behalf of our sexualities for ourselves. Abdelwahab Bouhdiba, Shereen El Feki, and Hayv Karahman, are but a few in our contemporary world bringing sensual topics into the modern spheres of art and literature. They truly see the importance of reclaiming our sexualities and our sexual representations for ourselves. 

source: Yumna's Newsletter

source: Yumna's Newsletter

This body of work hopes to breathe new life into these texts, to resurface them for those who may have forgotten the importance of sexuality and erotica in our culture. My goal is to remind myself and others that our culture and religion praises the importance of sexuality, in all of its forms. Many may not know that Islam holds sex as a sacred act, that which brings one closer to God. It insists that sex is a vital part of a relationship, not just to procreate, but also for pleasure - so much so that, a woman may legally leave her husband if he does not sexually please her." 

Everything you've just read makes my heart beat so fast. I spent a good part of my life wondering why, as Arabs, we couldn't express our sexuality openly, and why our God didn't like the beautiful intimacy of human sexuality. I won't get into the geopolitical and historical complexity of the region - which Yumna touches on briefly in her writing above - but I am very much aware of its effect on how we see ourselves sexually. It is work like this that makes me feel less "othered" by my own culture. The Pleasure Principles make me proud of my heritage and sensuality while taking ownership of it. This is how one reclaims their own sense of empowerment. 

Above all, I think Yumna's concluding thoughts that motivated me to share all the above with you. She finishes by saying: 

"I've been thinking and talking a lot about privilege these days. Mainly about my own, and my duty to take full advantage of every privilege I have. So many Muslim women approach me regularly asking how I can do what I do without fear of consequence from my family or community. The reality is that my family is my support system. They have always been my biggest cheerleaders, especially my father. 

In much of the Muslim world, most things can't happen in a woman's life without the approval of her father - even small things like going to school to study. Since day one, my father has had my back and supported all of my artistic endeavors, and continues to feed me inspiration and knowledge. He not only accepts what I do, but he is an active part of it. That is one of the greatest privileges of my entire existence, and because of it, I can continue to allow so many other women to be inspired to do more. All because my father's choice to not raise me with restriction solely based on my gender.

Because I know my privilege, I try my best to make full use of it during my time on this planet. It also has made me realize that there is such an important role we as women take in raising our sons to be supportive men, either as fathers or in the communities that they will exist. Please remember this. And please always remind yourself of your privilege, and that your greatest contributions to society will exist solely due to your awareness of your privilege, whatever it may be. 

Be good, you all. Think for yourself. Don't let the machine think for you. Learn about the importance of securing your data and your free will. And for god's sake, get the fuck off the internet. Make your own food, be good to the people you love, don't drink too much, use your hands for more than just scrolling, and speak your mind." 

I think getting the fuck off the internet is my favourite part of the whole newsletter, and the advice of raising our sons to be supportive, active individuals to be great contributors to society. As women that is how we empower ourselves and one another, and how we empower future generations. I cannot get enough of women like Yumna, who continue to produce cultural work that breaks boundaries and influence women like myself to be who we want to be. Hats off to Yumna and all the other female creators out there who inspire me and my peers. 

The future is fiercely female. 

xx 

Darah (for follow the halo issue #5 - reclaiming empowerment). 

shahad nazer: this month's featured artist

comissioned by follow the halo

comissioned by follow the halo

In this month's issue of follow the halo, we explore the theme "reclaiming empowerment". What does empowerment mean? And what does it mean for the Middle East? The word "empowered" has become a kind of buzzword, and gets thrown around a lot lately, from brands and governments alike. These buzzwords can become problematic especially when they assume that there is some state of "empowerment" and one "has" and another "hasn't". This issue, we decided to reclaim empowerment, and ask women from the region - specifically those in the arts and culture - what empowerment means to them. We also commissioned a work by Saudi-Egyptian artist and writer Shahad Nazer, titled "Deal with it", as the cover of our issue. 

In her own words, Shahad explains the piece and what empowerment means to her: 

"The piece I made titled "Deal with it" is a collage artwork using photoshop. I chose this title to represent Middle Eastern women and how powerful they are and that men and society should deal with it - in a humorous way yet but it's a strong message. Being born in Saudi Arabia has its ups and downs. Women were limited to what they could and couldn't do and I found my freedom in art and writing. They were my form of escape. Mostly I try to translate my thoughts and feelings into my art, especially with anything that has to do with women rights and women empowerment. I just want to show people that women are strong, brave, and shouldn't be underestimated. 

I think my work is mostly inspired by the issues and limits here, not just in my country but on planet earth, and I think I have a huge imagination and I like to test my creativity and how far I can go with it. I think anyone can use photoshop, anyone can do collage art, but can anyone be creative with it? Nope. That's what makes me different in my opinion. And also I've translated a lot of my dreams into artworks, including my novel that I'm currently working on that talks about Astral Projection, something I personally experienced." 

Shahad is 22 years of age and currently lives in Saudi Arabia. She is a huge bookworm, lover of animals, plants, mythical creatures and of course food. 

To follow Shahad's work on instagram @shahad.nazer 

rama ghanem: this month's featured culturalist

I interviewed my sister, Rama, about her most recent projected titled "Girls in Conversation" a photo-journal about what it means to be a woman of color living far away from home, and the feeling of loss that comes with it, amplified by heirlooms left behind. 

Hi Rama! Tell us a little bit about you

I’m a mixed media artist based in London, where I study, and Dubai, where I grew up. I make work about a lot of things - but mostly about feminism and Arab women, Western Pop Culture, transnational identity, and sometimes about my own lived experiences. I often work with various media including photography, time-based work, installation and net art. 

And tell us a little bit about your project

This project was a series of unstructured interviews with women of colour who come from a diaspora background, with questions around their home(s), identity, material items passed down to them as heirlooms, what they might pass down themselves, memory, and creative output. Photographs were taken during and after the interview process.

To what extent does being part of a diaspora group influence how you see the world and in turn your art?

It absolutely influences how I see the world because diaspora is more than physical displacement. There’s a mental disorientation that comes with that shift in environment. Diasporic individuals experience what is called a double consciousness, a term used to describe that fragmented sense of who you are. Sometimes your identity can become a matter of choice and other times (due to inequality) some of us have no choice but to conform to one thing or another. What I find compelling about looking into those layers of identity is seeing what unifies individuals from different diaspora backgrounds, but also the dissimilarities between them. It's interesting to think about how our condition changes in relation to the spaces we occupy and move through, in that sense also, the diaspora are very fluid and alive.  What was beautiful about each of those interviews was the vast difference in cultural experience but also how each of them expressed an attachment and sentimentality to their belongings, which I imagine is particular to people who are familiar with loss.

 It was quite a personal and intimate project. there’s an unstated trust there, when you’re taking pictures of somebody. There’s a vulnerability on my end as the photographer too, because it is my gaze that is imposed on somebody else, and so in a way it becomes about who I am as well. I stopped taking things at face value and recognized that everything is delicately connected to everything else in like for example how the things that belong to you shape your sense of belonging to something else. 

Why photography?

It wasn’t always my choice of medium in much of my previous work but when it came to looking inward and probing around this idea of holding something dear, photographs that you could touch made a lot of sense. I think I’ve actually always had a fascination with freezing a moment in time. As someone who came from a displaced family old photographs were my window into what life could have been like for me if I had grown up closer to my roots. It can be such a potent medium, but I don’t think it’s the aesthetic potential of it that pulled me. Though we’re bombarded with so many images every day, and that oversaturation of beautifully curated content from social media and advertising etc makes it difficult to create something really eye catching because we have almost seen it all. I decided to follow a different approach and to look past the composite aesthetic and try to just give you the person behind it. I don’t think it’s about the images really.

What’s next for you?

I think I’m going to venture further into photography or film. I’m not the type of person who plans my projects in advance, it is always the case for me that I reflect on my daily experiences and am able to express an idea inspired by that experience when it happens.

You can follow Rama's work on instagram here @itsactuallyrama

daily inspiration: tanya habjouqa 

source: lensculture.com

source: lensculture.com

I think I've found my forever woman crush. Tanya Habjouqa is everything I aspire to be - witty, smart, confident, vibrant, emotional, energetic, spirited and a world-class photographer. She's the winner of the World Press Photo (Photo of the Year) in 2015 and was my recently my mentor at Gulf Photo Plus Photo Week 2018. From 7 - 12 February I was part of a workshop lead by Tanya (workshop of my dreams frankly) that brought together a group of 10 Arab photographers working on long-term documentary projects. I can't even express how I feel about the last 5 days. Being around Tanya for that long was just... rejuvenating. I never felt more motivated to go out there and share the stories I believe matter so much. 

It was an experience I am so humbled to be a part of, mostly because I got to see some of Tanya's most recent work - which often touches on the political tensions of Palestine/Israel as well as the war in Syria - and also because I got to be intellectually stimulated by an Arab woman I fiercely admire. Tanya's work challenges the Occupation and Israeli apartheid in subtle ways making the audience question the short stories in each image. Her work also shares tragic stories of love and loss in the aftermath of the Syrian refugee crisis. My most favourite project of hers is "Tomorrow There Will be Apricots" - a title that insinuates sunshine harbours darkness when translated to Arabic. "Tomorrow There Will be Apricots" is a metaphor for broken dreams and wishes unfulfilled. Tanya's intense passion for the stories of the people photographed is awe inspiring. 

For more of Tanya's work click here or here

daily inspiration: azeema mag

Sometimes when I am running low on inspiration (or motivation) to share the stories I am dedicating my time to tell, I search for something that can push me. I look for women or projects that do the same - working towards creating a movement for something. The inspiration I found today was from the founder of Azeema Mag, Jameela El Faki. Jameela is self-publishing Azeema, and says that her main purpose is to inspire "strength, togetherness and self-acceptance" and wanting to "empower not offend". 

Empower not offend. That's the inspiration I needed today. You can follow Azeema mag on Instagram @azeemamag or azeemamag.com

Photographs sourced from banatcollective.com

daily inspiration: arab female photographers

This year has been the year I discovered a number of incredible Arab female photographers. As an aspiring photojournalist and storyteller, this discovery was transformative. For as long as I remember, I always wanted to tell visual stories - but growing up I never knew any Arab women who were involved in visual storytelling. This was because a) most photographers/filmmakers who make it to the mainstream are men, and b) many female photographers that do make it often aren't WoC. 

On some level, I think this discouraged me from ever believing that I could one-day share stories and be taken seriously or heard. But this year, things changed. Thanks to technology, more than ever before, WoC are able to share their work and be heard. And that's something that has encouraged me to fearlessly share stories. I am so proud to see so many incredible Arab women smashing glass ceilings and telling beautiful stories about us

So, for today's daily inspiration I am sharing the work of female photographers/photojournalists from the Arab world that I fiercely admire. Here's to a year of catching dreams and telling stories.

In the photos above are works from Yumna Al-Arashi (Yemen/Egypt), Tasneem Al Sultan (Saudi Arabia) and Tamara Abdul-Hadi (Iraq).