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, 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 

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

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 

anti-travel post: god loves dead gentrifiers

all eyes on you - found in Wynwood, Miami 

all eyes on you - found in Wynwood, Miami 

I won't lie. When I got to Miami, I was excited. I wanted to make the most of my 20-hour layover before heading to Nicaragua - and naturally, I wanted to see art, drink coffee and have a good burrito. Drink good coffee and have a mouth-watering burrito I did. See art? I don't know if I would call what I saw "art". 

Everyone recommends seeing Wynwood, Miami's gentrified neighbourhood. Now, I've had my fair share of gentrified neighbourhoods but Wynwood is next level. It's gentrification on steroids. Although now that I think about it, what separates Shoreditch from Wynwood is probably the histories of the original communities pre-gentrification - at the end of the day all patterns of gentrification are the same (foreign invasion, "artsy" makeover, increase in property value) - so maybe they're not that different? But I digress. My main point is that I am over gentrification. 

Gentrification is the opposite of authentic storytelling. It's the re-writing of the history of original communities and covering its reality with "art" and "culture", to make more attractive to white, upper-class, educated folks. That's why for Wynwood, and especially after taking Tanya's workshop, I decided to document it differently from how I usually blog about places I visit. I call this the anti-travel blog post. 

little tourist in Wynwood

little tourist in Wynwood

Wynwood was formerly known as Miami's "Little San Juan" (interesting due to its proximity to Little Havana and Little Haiti) for its huge Puerto Rican community that immigrated in the 1950s. Wynwood's current redevelopment began in 2005, and walking around the neighbourhood it's difficult to see remnants of its past as a Puerto Rican neighbourhood. What was obvious, however, was the southernness of Wynwood - very much a deep south neighbourhood. Florida is a southern state after all and isn't foreign to issues of gun control, racism, poverty or police brutality. 

There were some signs of dissatisfaction towards the gentrification of Wynwood. I found a poster that said "God loves dead gentrifiers" right under a "Love, Miami" graffiti. I laughed at how bold it was although overshadowed by a sea of fluorescent street art. In any case, it was interesting to see the differences between gentrification in huge urban centres like New York or London in comparison to a laid-back southern city like Miami.

If you're coming to Miami, I wouldn't necessarily head to Wynwood for the art but maybe to drink mojitos and speak to locals to get a genuine story on the history of the neighbourhood. 

women's second hand clothing boutique in Wynwood

women's second hand clothing boutique in Wynwood

In a cab heading home

In a cab heading home

Sunset in Miami

Sunset in Miami

For now, bye bye Miami. Next, Nicaragua... See you soon xx


daily inspiration: moroccan photographer hicham gadaf

Source: Arab Documentary Photography Program

Source: Arab Documentary Photography Program

After two intense days doing this workshop at Photo Week 2018, I am so full of new ideas and inspiration that I feel almost hung over. I have so many stories and artists I want to share, but I don't want to overwhelm my page  - maybe I'll release some of this inspiration gradually in coming issues of my newsletter. 

Anyway, for today's inspiration, I want to share the work of documentary photographer Hicham Gardaf. Hicham is of Moroccan origin and focuses on topics related to urbanisation and identity specifically in his home country. The image above is my favourite from his collection titled "Intersections" which explores city 'fringes and borders' and their coexistence with contemporary society. I love the mood and the feel of Hicham's work and you can view more of the project here

Tarane Parniani: this month's featured artist

commissioned for follow the halo

commissioned for follow the halo

This artwork is by Iranian illustrator Tarane Parniani titled "Under The Moonlight". Tarane created a 100% digital painting using photoshop for the newsletter. Tarane is inspired by moonlight, since its often associated with feminine energy. 

Tarane considers herself a feminist artist. In her own words she says: "I consider myself a feminist artist not because I draw women but because of the message I am trying to send. Even if it's not the main focus of the piece, I try to keep a wide range of body types and people of color in my works. The positive feedback I get from women, that seeing small "flaws" like stretch marks or a tummy in my art has made them more accepting of themselves. It means a lot to me you know?" 

Tarane says that she wants women to "find themselves" in her work because she often doesn't find representations of women like herself (curvy, Iranian). As for culture, she notes:  "I used to be super obsessed with Western culture as a lot of people my age were back then. But then, growing up, studying art, and especially with this wave of reclaiming one's own culture which is quite huge in Iran, I've begun to reclaim it myself." 

When I asked her to elaborate on how culture influencers her work, she added: 

"Fact is, my culture is not something I can separate myself from, its part of me. My background and lifestyle growing up in Tehran and in the current age - with the contrasts and paradoxes it has - for myself and for the women around me, with all the struggles it might have on a daily basis, its all part of me and honestly I love it Tehran. It's my home. And Iran is home to a lot of diversity in culture and background, there are a lot of different types of people I see every day." 

Tarane says she is inspired by other cultures too, particularly Japanese art. She says she would love to visit Japan more frequently and get a more in-depth view of Japanese culture. 

Tarane is currently based in Tehran. You can follow her work on Instagram at @t.arane

daily inspiration: photographer abbas habiballa


I stumbled upon Sudanese photographer Abbas Habiballa's work while scouring the internet for more resources about Sudan (I have an article currently under construction and looking for references). I love finding the work of photographers who lived before our digitalized age because it shows the true extent of their talent - no easy digital equipment to make everything look good. It takes true artistry. 

From what I gather Habiballa was born in the 1950s and pursued photography in the 60s and 70s, during the era of Sudan's post-independence, post-modern aesthetics. He took everyday photos around his neighbourhood and hometown. Sometimes you just need plain old raw artistry to shake and move you. 

I love this photojournal of his work. 

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). 

Hassan Sharif: the uae's iconic contemporary artist

This morning I woke up to a fabulous review of the late Emarati artist Hassan Sharif in the New York Times. I highly recommend checking out the article, and visiting the Sharjah Art Foundation (before March 2018) to experience the most comprehensive exhibition of Sharif's lifetime work. 

The New York Times article inspired me to share my love for Hassan Sharif. I really think it's worth noting that contemporary art in the Arab world, and particularly the Arab Gulf, did exist long before the discovery of oil. Unfortunately, our region lacks an authentic and comprehensive historical narrative. But I digress. Hassan Sharif is arguably the most iconic artist in UAE history and is the founder of the UAE's avant-garde art scene (Emirates Fine Art Society) in a time when the Emirates was still considered the small Trucial States. As you might figure from my newsletter, I have an affinity to artists that send a thought-provoking message through pattern and color. Sharif's work is critical of consumerist culture in the Gulf post-oil development - one of few artists I know that makes such a bold statement about contemporary life. 

I also loved the exhibition currently at the foundation. Curated by the Sharjah Art foundation founder, Sheikha Hoor Al Qassimi, it is basically the largest solo exhibition for an Emarati artist inside the UAE. I really admire and respect Sheika Hoor's work who has shaken up arts scene in the region. 

Check out the exhibition at the Sharjah Art Foundation and I highly recommend reading this review by the New York Times. 

Thank you to my dear friend, art-lover and architect Salaheldin Shams for the photos (above) that he captured while exploring the exhibition with me. 

Dar Al Naim: this month's featured artist

The first time I came across Dar Al Naim's work was on Instagram. I was instantly taken away by her use of color and form and quickly wanted to know more about who she was. Dar is a multi-media artist and illustrator from Sudan. Each piece she creates takes from her Sudanese roots, and is fused with color, often questioning the universe and our place in it. Her work is light-hearted yet thought-provoking - inspirational to no end. 

I commissioned the above artwork from Dar for this month's issue of follow the halo. The piece, titled "Halo", uses acrylic, ink, collage, and felt-tip (mixed-media). Dar was inspired by the title of the newsletter for the creation of this work, and explains in her own words: 

"My Sudanese culture has everything to do with my work when it comes to visuals. I use Sudanese inspired colors and symbols in most of my pieces. The simple fact of being Sudanese is what makes my work different from my fellow European colleagues. The use of color is by far the most obvious bit, but also my direct reference to my country touching on all topics affecting it can be seen in my work."

Dar also says that her work is inspired by the vastness of the universe, and how human interaction is shaped by it. She explains: 

"We are all alone with the universe, we should be happy to be here and appreciate the vast and wonderful world around us. I tend to work a lot with the universe in mind. As a way of expression, it portrays the multiple aspects of human interaction. The stars the sky the planets the size of it all, the scale of our being and our knowledge. The idea of being in space but looking at it from far is very interesting to me. The distances we create to make sense of it all."

Dar Al Naim resides in Ibiza (Spain)  and is an obsessive list maker. You can follow her artwork and travels on @daralnaimart on Instagram. 

The above images (other than the one comissioned) are part of Dar's work and were used with her permission.