Perpetual Movement: Meet the Arab artists exhibiting in London this month
"People have been moving to, from and through the Arab region for hundreds, even thousands of years. They still do. With them memories also move. They can be inherited, or they can alter from generation to generation, becoming fragmented, creating gaps that need to be filled. Some memories can be buried, whilst others can be idealised" - Lizzy Vartanian Collier
Running from March 1 – 25 at Rich Mix, Shoreditch, new exhibition ‘Perpetual Movement’ comprises the work of seven emerging female artists with roots in Egypt, Kuwait, Syria, Yemen and the UAE, whose works all illustrate movement. Dealing with themes of migration and memory, the exhibition addresses the many reasons for migration and the impact of such wandering. Part of this year’s AWAN (Arab Women Artists Now) Festival, the exhibition is free to all, and makes compelling viewing. Here are three of the most striking stories on show.
Born in Washington DC to a Yemeni Father and Egyptian mother, Al-Arashi was raised in the US and is now based in London. Her work confronts her own struggles and identity as both a woman and a Muslim. “Face”, on show at Perpetual Motion, is a body of work inspired by her late great-grandmother, documenting the fading matriarchal practice of facial tattooing in Yemeni women, a custom dating back thousands of years. The designs carry rich symbolism speaking of connection to the earth and cosmos, sometimes signalling protection for the self and family. The practice petered out in the 1930’s and 40’s largely due to the spread of Islam, which prohibits permanent bodily changes, and conversely the onset of capitalism and western beauty standards. Al Arashi’s journey to seek out the last remaining bearers of the facial tattoo blesses us with an outstanding collection of photography, speaking of a bygone era when feminine power reigned supreme.
Thana Faroq is a Yemeni documentary photographer, born in Yemen in 1990. She currently lives in the Netherlands and has collaborated with various international organisations from Oxfam and the British Council to UN Women, telling the stories of women, children and internally displaced people in Yemen. Inspired by Donald Trump’s travel ban on people from Yemen, Somalia, Iran, Libya and more, her project ‘The Passport’ documents the feelings of isolation born from having a problematic passport – instead of aiding travel, the passport became a burden, prohibiting her movement and escape from a war-torn homeland. How can a passport define a person? How can it control its owner? This incredible collection combines impactful photography with hand-written testimony of refugees from countries banned from entering the US by the Cheeto-in-Chief.
A voice for Arab Youth, Najd AlTaher is a Kuwaiti visual artist who uses conceptual photography, videography and installation art to raise political conversation. Her work often examines consumer culture, conjuring visions of disrupted luxury, but her collection Al Yaqueen - which translates to English as ‘Certainty’ - depicts the point of getting lost in contemplation, the moment of isolation when you detach from everything on earth and dive deep into your thoughts. AlTaher’s red figure juxtaposes darkness with vibrancy, telling a powerful story as the woman looks both outside and inside, within and without, evoking feelings that all women can relate to. Vogue Arabia describes AlTaher as ‘the rising star you need to know about’ – can’t argue with that.
Perpetual Movement opens on March 1 at Rich Mix. Register here to attend.
Written by Charlotte Ruth