Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Gulf Re-veiled

Shurooq Amin is part of a new generation of Kuwaiti artists exploring 21st century female identity in the Arabian Gulf. The Polyglot sat down with the artist, poet and certified scuba diver, as she prepares for her first solo exhibit outside the Middle East at London’s Lahd Gallery.

Does travel influence you as an artist?I’ve traveled all over the world from Asia to North and South America, but I am pretty sure I caught the travel bug from my father. He instilled in me this curiosity about the outside world. He would take me to museums all over Europe, attend shows at the Bolshoi ballet in Moscow, theater productions in London, and even bull-fights in Madrid. It’s hard to not be engaged with the world when you are exposed to all of that from an early age.

Did you face any challenges as a female artist practicing in Kuwait?Great art tends to reflect the realities of a society, and as an artist that’s harder to capture in an environment where self expression is frowned upon. Sometimes we spend our lives worrying about what others will think or say about us. But I realized I owed it to my children to be a positive role model for them. By allowing myself the freedom to pursue my own passion for art, I wanted to show them that they shouldn’t be afraid to go after their own dreams. In a sense I hope my work touches young women throughout Kuwait and the Arab world and makes them realize that “if she can do it, so can I.” That struggle is reflected in my paintings and my poetry, which is usually why they are considered somewhat controversial. But success is all the more meaningful when you’ve gone through a lot of obstacles.

What is the theme of your upcoming exhibit?For the past year and a half, I've been exploring the polarities that exist in modern Arab culture, especially within the societies of the Arabian Gulf region. My "Society Girls" series explores the lives of women behind closed doors, and tries to capture the struggles and judgments they face should they choose to be "individuals" as opposed to "following the herd". Middle Eastern society is very much geared towards being a part of the whole, and individuals who deviate from the norm tend to be labeled as outcasts. My paintings often depict women in a relaxed atmosphere where they can be themselves, and have no fear of being "outed." Despite this, their faces and parts of their bodies are veiled by the Abbaya or the Niqab, alluding to the polar worlds in which they live.

What sort of reaction do you expect to get from your work?In a sense my paintings are an ironic look at what constitutes "freedom" in the Middle East, and there is an element of sarcasm in dealing with the topic. As the artist, I don’t judge the subject so much as put it out there for audiences to make their own interpretations. Although the message in the work is clear, it’s not about preaching what is right or wrong, but simply addressing a reality which exits within our society today.

Why did you choose to exhibit at London’s Lahd Gallery?The “Society Girls” series is an evolution of earlier works I had originally shown at the Gallery Tilal in Kuwait. One of the reasons I decided not to exhibit this new body of work in Kuwait, is because it more closely explores the link between sexuality and religion. The Lahd Gallery expressed an interest in the work, and after several emails we set up a meeting in London to discuss a possible show. They understood my vision and from there a collaboration was born.

How did the exhibit’s title come about?My solo show at the gallery is titled “The Bullet Series.” After completing each painting, I fired a Hornet bullet into a specific spot in each canvas. I used an M16 and had one chance to get it right! The whole process was documented and a short film will accompany the exhibition in London. I may even decide to give each buyer the actual bullet that was shot through the painting.

"The Bullet Series"
Lahd Gallery's 92 Heath Street London
Solo Show “The Bullet Series” February 24th 2011.

Images courtesy of Shurooq Amin and Sueraya Shaheen
© THE POLYGLOT (all rights reserved) CHICAGO-PARIS

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