Kuwaiti artist Shurooq Amin reflects on oppression in Arab society – in pictures

Shurooq Amin bridges the personal and the political in a new exhibition at Ayyam Gallery Dubai. 

Kuwaiti artist Shurooq Amin presents a new series of mixed-media works that poignantly reflect on social maladies and political injustices.

Shurooq Amin, 'Pipe Dreams', 2014, mixed media on paper in glass and stainless steel frame, 101 x 135 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

Shurooq Amin, ‘Pipe Dreams’, 2014, mixed media on paper in glass and stainless steel frame, 101 x 135 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

Ayyam Gallery Dubai is hosting a solo exhibition for Kuwaiti/Syrian artist Shurooq Amin from 14 September to 30 October 2014. Featuring diverse materials and themes, “We’ll Build This City on Art and Love” continues to explore the role of women in Arab society and further provokes reflection on wider sociopolitical issues.

A woman in a man’s world

Shurooq Amin (b. 1967, Kuwait) is a conceptual, mixed-media and interdisciplinary artist with thirteen solo exhibitions to date. Amin is also a Pushcart Prize-nominated poet and a professor at Kuwait University. Renowned for creating controversy, the artist fearlessly portrays the taboos and paradoxes that plague modern day Muslim women in Kuwait and beyond.

As the Huffington Post writes, Amin sees herself “as a fighter and an outsider, a point of view she uses to capture reflections of the society around her.” The artist has said in an interview:

I tackle the issues that need to be raised and discussed, and if they want to censor, let them censor away.

Shurooq Amin in her studio. Image courtesy Ayyam Gallery.

Shurooq Amin in her studio. Image courtesy Ayyam Gallery.

And censor they did. On 7 March 2012, three hours after her exhibition “It’s a Man’s World” opened in Kuwait City, it was shut down by authorities for being ‘pornographic’ and ‘anti-Islamic’. The controversy emboldened the artist, who went on to create more complex, provocative works revolving around freedom, identity, censorship and the oppression of Arab women.

Shurooq Amin, 'Fashionista', 2014, mixed media on canvas, 200 x 150 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

Shurooq Amin, ‘Fashionista’, 2014, mixed media on canvas, 200 x 150 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

A personal take on the political

In “We’ll Build This City on Art and Love”, Amin progresses from the personal to the political, exploring a diverse range of sociopolitical issues in Arab society apart from the oppression of women.

Shurooq Amin, 'Pollutoland', 2014, mixed media on canvas, 120 x 187 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

Shurooq Amin, ‘Pollutoland’, 2014, mixed media on canvas, 120 x 187 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

Amin explains the title of the exhibition on her website:

My 2014 series is entitled “We’ll Build This City on Art and Love”, a spin-off [of] the eighties song “We’ll Build This City on Rock ‘n’ Roll”. The title takes on both a serious and sarcastic connotation, with the simple straightforward meaning of re-building cities, minds, and beliefs that have been destroyed/deconstructed due to corruption and dogmatic, hypocritical ideologies.

Shurooq Amin, 'We are the Future', 2014, mixed media on canvas, 87 x 130 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

Shurooq Amin, ‘We are the Future’, 2014, mixed media on canvas, 87 x 130 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

As the exhibition press release reveals, Amin uses her art to confront a variety of social maladies, which:

rang[e] from child marriage in war-affected areas to the marginalisation of the Bedoun in Kuwait, and the moral and material ramifications of stalled “dream” construction projects such as Silk City.

Shurooq Amin, 'Through the Looking Glass - Child Bride', 2014, mixed media on canvas, 200 x 150 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

Shurooq Amin, ‘Through the Looking Glass – Child Bride’, 2014, mixed media on canvas, 200 x 150 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

The move from the personal to the political is a logical one for Amin, who sees her calling as an artist as one which gives a voice to the oppressed. When asked what she hopes to achieve in her art, Amin once responded:

Simple. I want to be a voice for people who cannot raise their voice […] I want my art – no matter how long it takes – to be a little part of the war to fight for freedom of expression […] I want to raise awareness and open up dialogue and liberate minds.

Shurooq Amin, 'The Tangled Tale', 2014, mixed media on canvas, 100 x 150 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

Shurooq Amin, ‘The Tangled Tale’, 2014, mixed media on canvas, 100 x 150 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

A touch of the whimsical

The artist’s signature warm hues and whimsical tongue-in-cheek imagery balance the sombre subject matter and give humour to otherwise grave issues. The titles of the paintings are mostly twists on chapters from Lewis Carrol’s books such as Alice in Wonderland and The Hunting of the Snark.

Shurooq Amin, 'Piece of the Pie: Who Stole the Tarts?', 2014, mixed media on canvas, 200 x 150 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

Shurooq Amin, ‘Piece of the Pie: Who Stole the Tarts?’, 2014, mixed media on canvas, 200 x 150 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

In Piece of the Pie: Who Stole the Tarts? (2014), the young woman has grown tall like Alice from Alice in Wonderland while the men, tiny in comparison, continue to bicker over the largest piece of the pie. The work comments on the mismanaged state of political affairs in the Arab world and gives a nod to matriarchal society.

Shurooq Amin, 'Family Portrait 1', 2013, mixed media on canvas and wood frame, 148 x 128 x 13 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

Shurooq Amin, ‘Family Portrait 1’, 2013, mixed media on canvas and wood frame, 148 x 128 x 13 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

As with previous works, Amin continues masking the faces of her subjects. This time, colourful flowers are used instead of white-outs and the effect is more whimsical than eerie. The flowers also add a feminine touch to the canvas, suggesting a desire for soft power in a male-driven political world.

Shurooq Amin, 'See the Beauty Here', 2013, mixed media on canvas, 177 x 128 x 13 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

Shurooq Amin, ‘See the Beauty Here’, 2013, mixed media on canvas, 177 x 128 x 13 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

Amin commented on her use of the mask in the interview cited above:

There are two objectives from masking the faces: 1) to hide the identity of the people in the images, because they are all real people, not made up characters; and 2) to symbolise the double lives we lead here and the encouragement that society in the Middle East gives to double standards […] our society doesn’t condone individuality—it condones conformity. So, if you want to be accepted, you have to conform to the social norms, even if you don’t believe in them.

Shurooq Amin, 'Education and Beyond', 2014, mixed media on paper in glass and stainless steel frame, 101 x 135 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

Shurooq Amin, ‘Education and Beyond’, 2014, mixed media on paper in glass and stainless steel frame, 101 x 135 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

A hint of death

Unique to this exhibition are more sombre works that layer remnants of Kuwaiti history. The grey-toned collages combine reclaimed photographs and charcoal drawings to evoke a haunting sense of the past and invite viewers to imagine a doomed future.

Shurooq Amin, 'Waiting for Dodo', 2014, mixed media on paper in glass and stainless steel frame, 101 x 135 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

Shurooq Amin, ‘Waiting for Dodo’, 2014, mixed media on paper in glass and stainless steel frame, 101 x 135 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

Even in these works, a sense of Amin’s characteristic whimsical sarcasm remains. Furthermore, the diverse media create intriguing canvases imbued with the materials’ own sets of histories, enabling a rich viewing experience. As Bazaar Magazine notes:

Merging traditional painting and photography, [Amin’s] unique formula portrays a distinctive quality of reflecting various hidden layers and details where one must continue to strip away each layer to reveal the truth.

Shurooq Amin, 'Mara7 7aram', 2014, mixed media on canvas, 105 x 460.5 x 6 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

Shurooq Amin, ‘Mara7 7aram’, 2014, mixed media on canvas, 105 x 460.5 x 6 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

A message of hope

Ultimately, Amin’s message is one of love and hope: this is apparent in her playful imagery, warm colour palette, references to children’s tales and flora-filled canvases. Perhaps it is a hope that clings to a steadfast belief in the future role of women in Arab society as they fight to transgress boundaries and oppressive forces. According to the press release, the artist’s central concern is:

how best to build sustainable relationships, societies, and systems so that the legacy we leave behind is that of strength instead of fracture or stagnation.

Michele Chan

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Related Topics: Kuwaiti artists, Syrian artistspainting, mixed media, photography, art and the community, gallery shows, picture feasts, events in Dubai

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Kuwaiti artist Shurooq Amin reflects on oppression in Arab society – in pictures — 4 Comments

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