Sama Alshaibi: Strength as a Constant

0 Flares 0 Flares ×

Marjana, from the series, Carry Over, 2018. Gumoil on cotton rag. ©  Sama Alshaibi. Courtesy of the artist. Carry Over was supported in part by a grant from The Arab Fund for Arts and Culture and the Arizona Commission on the Arts which receives support from the State of Arizona and the National Endowment for the Arts.

The true genius of these visually soft works—soft not in context nor content—but in the very medium of print that Alshaibi has chosen to share them in, alluding to the aged, antique, and historic, is that it takes a deeper concentration to read the sheer activist stance embedded within these unabashed, softly beautiful pieces.  

BY ISABELLA ELLAHEH HUGHES | SPRING/SUMMER 2019


VIEW CATALOGUE . . .


The Women’s Work Issue coincides with the Women’s Work: Art & Activism in the 21st Century exhibition at Pen and Brush in New York City. On view April 10 – August 2, 2019.

Over the course of a career spanning almost two decades, Sama Alshaibi has covered many themes: Palestinian sovereignty and the Diaspora; war; gender identity within the Arab world; land rights; the Arab Spring; retracing the journey of Ibn Battuta; and the future of water and natural resources.

Central to her practice is the artist-as-activist stance her work communicates via a recurring female protagonist. From photography to video, whether addressing serious issues or the playful, there she is. The unwavering commonality in all her appearances across Alshaibi’s various bodies of work is the protagonist’s strength and self-assuredness in her actions.

Whether questioning gender norms and male, Arab masculinity in her series vs. Him (2011) or commenting on climate change and the scarcity of water in an otherworldly, entrancing video sequence cinematically shot across the deserts of North Africa and West Asia in Wasl (2017), the strength of the female protagonist—regardless of the setting, costume she wears, or suggested era—is the central focus.

In her most recent body of work, Carry Over (2018), a photography series debuting in Women’s Work at Pen and Brush in New York City, the female protagonist is once more on view in a variety of socio-historical gazes. At first, a quick glance of these gumoils (a process and weathered effect that gives photos an instant antique quality) makes it seem as if they are directly out of the late 19th century.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sheesha (left) and Milk Maid (right) from the series, Carry Over, 2018. Gumoil on cotton rag. ©  Sama Alshaibi. Courtesy of the artist.

The subtle irony comes upon deeper observation. Woven among images featuring more historic practices of ‘women’s work’—the Milk Maid and the Water Bearer—are more heady subjects such as Justice, Smoke, Sheesha, Marjana, and Gamer Stack. These directly counter the Orientalist, voyeuristic gaze rampant in 19th and 20th century photography of women from West Asia and North Africa, no doubt assumed by French and English colonists and other curious, foreign voyagers-turned-voyeurs.

This region of the world, known as the cradle of civilization, once celebrated strong women in North African and West Asian history by bestowing upon them an almost mythological status. This was before colonialism, post-colonialism, a succession of dictators and foreign government interventionist disasters, and most recently, a rise in religious extremism. Some of these strong, mythical women are referenced in Alshaibi’s Carry Over—the great Scheherazade and Nefertiti amongst them. These easily recognizable women to any moderately and formally educated global audience are masterfully interwoven in the artist’s portrayal of everyday ‘women’s work.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Justice (top left), Gamer Stack, (top right), Water Bearer (bottom left), and Smoke (bottom right), from the series, Carry Over, 2018. Gumoil on cotton rag. ©  Sama Alshaibi.

In the more assertive, unnerving, yet inherently enchanting gumoils, there is an embrace yet contradiction to all that we think we know about women through visual culture transmitted over centuries—from odalisque paintings, to early photography, and more recently, photojournalism and 21st century digital media outlets. Our senses are quickly bombarded with the familiar, reinforcing what we think we know about the women from this region, their place, and their history.

The true genius of these visually soft works—soft not in context nor content—but in the very medium of print that Alshaibi has chosen to share them in, alluding to the aged, antique, and historic, is that it takes a deeper concentration to read the sheer activist stance embedded within these unabashed, softly beautiful pieces.

In Smoke, the woman is entrapped within a mashrabiya box—a recurring motif in architecture from North Africa and West Asia, romanticized as much as the headscarf and hijab and more specifically, the women hidden behind these barriers. Confidently looking behind the mashrabiya-screened box, the female protagonist, almost jauntily puffs away, daring the viewer to question if she is anything but in charge and control of their experience and subsequent perception of her.

Equally arresting is Justice, where once more, the female protagonist, this time with her face clearly seen, gazes directly at the viewer. On her shoulder is a scale of epic proportions, as if she is questioning the historic injustices of women, but also history, and the realities of the present that impact everyone living in Alshaibi’s homelands—broken governments, the lack of the most basic resources such as water, and shaky policies on human rights and women’s rights.

 

Screenshot from Wasl (Union), from the project, Silsia, 2017.  ©  Sama Alshaibi. Courtesy of the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

 
Over the past few years, Alshaibi has masterfully moved towards embracing a sense of mysticism and a welcoming softness to her charged, artist-as-activist works, beginning with Silsila (2009 – 2017) and its corresponding video, Wasl (2017). Alshaibi’s ingenuity, shown here in Women’s Work, to play with the comfortable and familiar and reworked with a clear message, is the culmination of the direction her practice has been moving towards. Mabrook.

Isabella Ellaheh Hughes’ career spans the arts, culture, agriculture, and entrepreneurship. She is the founder and Director Emeritus of Honolulu Biennial Foundation (HBF) and President and co-founder of Shaka Tea. A frequent juror in the arts and contributor to exhibition catalogues and publications, she has written for ArtAsiaPacific, Frieze, Harper’s Bazaar Art Arabia, Barjeel Art Foundation, Singapore Art Museum, Aga Khan Museum, among others. She is also the editor of the monograph Sand Rushes In: Sama Alshaibi (Aperture Foundation). Hughes sits on the board of HBF and the Hawai’i Technology & Development Corporation, and is an advisor for the Terasaki Conservancy.


 .
giveonlinebutton

OF NOTE Magazine is free to readers, free of advertising, and free of subscriptions—all made possible by generous supporters like you. Your tax-deductible gift will help us continue to feature innovative and emerging global artists using the arts as tools for social change.
OF NOTE Magazine is a fiscally sponsored organization of the New York Foundation for the Arts, a 501 (c) (3), tax-exempt organization. All donations are 100% tax-deductible to the full extent of the law.

0 Flares Facebook 0 Twitter 0 0 Flares ×

Comments

780 Responses to “Sama Alshaibi: Strength as a Constant”
  1. I simply needed to appreciate you again. I’m not certain the things I might have worked on without the actual hints revealed by you on this concern. Certainly was a very frustrating situation in my circumstances, however , understanding the very expert strategy you resolved it forced me to leap with gladness. I am just happy for this work and even expect you recognize what a great job you happen to be getting into instructing many others via your web page. Probably you’ve never met all of us.

  2. mbt shoes says:

    My husband and i were now peaceful Louis managed to finish off his investigation through your precious recommendations he grabbed using your blog. It is now and again perplexing just to possibly be making a gift of techniques which usually many people could have been trying to sell. We really take into account we need the website owner to give thanks to for this. The most important explanations you have made, the easy website navigation, the friendships you can give support to promote – it’s most sensational, and it’s facilitating our son in addition to our family imagine that this theme is awesome, which is tremendously fundamental. Thank you for all the pieces!

  3. Its such as you learn my thoughts! You seem to know a lot approximately this, such as you wrote the e-book in it or something. I believe that you simply could do with some to pressure the message home a little bit, but instead of that, that is magnificent blog. An excellent read. I’ll certainly be back.

  4. You made some clear points there. I did a search on the issue and found most individuals will approve with your website.

  5. street art says:

    naturally like your website but you need to check the spelling on quite a few of your posts. Several of them are rife with spelling issues and I find it very troublesome to tell the reality nevertheless I will definitely come again again.

  6. I like what you guys are up also. Such intelligent work and reporting! Keep up the excellent works guys I¡¦ve incorporated you guys to my blogroll. I think it’ll improve the value of my website 🙂

  7. Hello. splendid job. I did not imagine this. This is a fantastic story. Thanks!

  8. legal says:

    we like to honor quite a few other web web-sites on the web, even though they arent linked to us, by linking to them. Below are some webpages worth checking out

  9. Outstanding post, you have pointed out some good details , I as well believe this s a very great website.

  10. canon eos says:

    Superb post however , I was wanting to know if you could write a litte more on this topic? I’d be very thankful if you could elaborate a little bit more. Appreciate it!

  11. Style says:

    Nice blog here! Also your web site loads up very fast! What web host are you using? Can I get your affiliate link to your host? I wish my website loaded up as quickly as yours lol

  12. Hi there, just became alert to your blog through Google, and found that it is truly informative. I’m gonna watch out for brussels. I’ll appreciate if you continue this in future. Many people will be benefited from your writing. Cheers!

  13. I’ve been browsing online more than three hours today, yet I never found any interesting article like yours. It is pretty worth enough for me. In my opinion, if all website owners and bloggers made good content as you did, the internet will be a lot more useful than ever before.

  14. Thanks for any other informative site. Where else may just I am getting that kind of info written in such a perfect manner? I have a project that I’m simply now running on, and I’ve been at the glance out for such information.

  15. Thank you for the auspicious writeup. It in fact was a amusement account it. Look advanced to far added agreeable from you! By the way, how could we communicate?

  16. that may be the finish of this write-up. Right here you will uncover some sites that we consider youll value, just click the hyperlinks over

  17. The data talked about inside the article are some of the very best accessible

  18. Traveling says:

    Excellent blog here! Also your website loads up fast! What host are you using? Can I get your affiliate link to your host? I wish my website loaded up as fast as yours lol

  19. Simply want to say your article is as astounding. The clarity in your post is simply spectacular and i can assume you’re an expert on this subject. Well with your permission let me to grab your RSS feed to keep updated with forthcoming post. Thanks a million and please continue the enjoyable work.

  20. Here is a great Blog You might Uncover Exciting that we Encourage You

  21. laweekly.com says:

    just beneath, are several completely not related web-sites to ours, nevertheless, they’re surely worth going over

  22. News says:

    But a smiling visitor here to share the love (:, btw outstanding layout.

  23. usually posts some incredibly intriguing stuff like this. If youre new to this site

  24. Fashion says:

    Hi my family member! I want to say that this post is amazing, nice written and include almost all significant infos. I would like to see extra posts like this.

  25. Some really interesting info , well written and generally user friendly.

  26. Usually I don’t read article on blogs, however I wish to say that this write-up very pressured me to check out and do so! Your writing style has been amazed me. Thanks, very great post.

  27. The data mentioned within the report are a few of the top readily available

  28. I would like to thank you for the efforts you’ve put in writing this blog. I am hoping the same high-grade website post from you in the upcoming as well. In fact your creative writing skills has encouraged me to get my own website now. Really the blogging is spreading its wings fast. Your write up is a great example of it.

  29. yoga says:

    I just could not depart your website before suggesting that I extremely loved the standard info a person supply to your visitors? Is gonna be again steadily to check up on new posts

  30. Very good written story. It will be useful to anyone who employess it, as well as me. Keep doing what you are doing – can’r wait to read more posts.

 

0 Flares Facebook 0 Twitter 0 0 Flares ×