women empowerment

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. 

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 

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

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. 

I do things "just because"

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My mantra this year has been "just because". I think for women especially, we're often expected to justify why we do anything. As a woman you're expected to justify every want, desire, thought, ambition, behavior, action, choice and so on. From the most trivial to the most significant choices, we are constantly expected to provide explanations. Whether its a choice of clothing or the right to have children, we are constantly expected to provide answers, as though our value or self-worth can only be taken seriously if we provide coherent (and often conforming) backstories. And, honestly, I can't be sicker of it.

As this year comes to an end I realise that my most prized accomplishment was doing whatever the hell I wanted to do without answering to anyone. It's interesting because rarely are women asked the justify the things that are deserving of justification. At work meetings, I am often interrupted in the middle of justifying an action plan - but god forbid I forget to justify why I travel solo. 

I find it not only ridiculous but also ostensibly hilarious that men get away with life without justification. Men go all their lives not having to justify where they are going; not having to justify the way they dress or even life choices. A recent example comes to mind: a morning Arab talk show spent an entire hour on air discussing why and how Arab women wear make-up. Why a show would spend an hour dissecting the intentions and justifications for why women wear makeup sounds ridiculous to me. No self-respecting show would ever dedicate an entire hour of airtime discussing why Arab men choose to spend thousands of dollars on gym fees and valuable time getting buffed up. If anything, it seems more insane to me that men can be vain and have no one question it, but when women - many of whom are covered and have no intention of sharing that vanity with anyone - choose to wear make-up, its called into question. In my opinion, it's none of anyone's business what I choose to do and not do with my face, with my body, with my life or with my work. 

This year, solo travel was my solace and my internal revolution. It has been the "just because", the thing I do specifically because I'm expected to justify it. And yet I answered to no one. At first, solo travel was a battle for me. Firstly, it was a battle with myself, fighting the fear of being alone and what would family think. Then it was a battle explaining where I am going and why. It makes me angry just to think that I once cared what others though. But now there's nothing more liberating than flying all the way to the other side of this earth (that's why I love traveling around South America) with my middle finger figuratively blazing. I get no better rush than the rush of getting on a flight and leave people on the ground wondering. Solo travel is, in my opinion, a revolutionary act in and of itself. 

This year I've ditched the justification bullshit in all aspects of my life. I do things for me and me alone. I do things "just because" and because I want to. If there's anything I've accomplished this year its that I've come to peace with justification - and that the only person I need to prove anything to is myself. Everyone else can just second guess. And I don't really care because it has nothing to do with me. 

I really encourage any woman reading this to track back in her life and notice all the moments society expected justifications. If there are any resolutions you should begin within 2018 its to do whatever you want "just because". No matter what you resolve to do in the new year, do it without having to justify it to anyone. Have a happy 2018 from me, and I hope you do all the things "just because". 

Darah