An Art Market report points out that the median labor price of female artists in the Middle East and Africa is 11% lower than that of male artists. In addition, the work of women artists represents only 36 percent of the region’s large permanent collections. According to the National Museum of Women in the Arts, “Women remain significantly under-represented and underestimated in museums, galleries and auction houses.”
The Khaleeji Art Museum, the Arab Gulf region’s first online museum dedicated to promoting the work of GCC artists, hopes to lead by example in disrupting this gender disparity in the art world. Founded in 2020, the Digital Art Museum hosts exhibitions and galleries that showcase the works of emerging and established Arab artists. Some of their previous exhibits have been: Ramadan in Quarantine, Khaleejis in Corona’s Time, and a digital gallery that was projected onto the 36-story building of the Intercontinental Hotel in Dubai Festival City (DFC).
Founded by Emirati sisters Manar and Sharifah Al Hinai, the museum is also the first in the region to be formed, developed and organized by an all-female team. “Around the world, women artists have expressed a gender disparity – barriers to entry that prevent their work from being exhibited in renowned museums or acquisitions at auctions,” says Manar Al Hinai. “So we thought, why not change that and showcase an example from the region? “
The duo ensure they have equal representation of artists in their exhibitions and galleries. Examining why this may be important, Manar Al Hinai asks, “How are you going to tell an inclusive story of a country, region, event or period in history if women are excluded?” ? “
In a solo exhibition, the museum recently featured the works of Saudi artist Zakia Al Dubaikhi, including acrylic and watercolor paintings that depict motherhood, ceremonies and cultural differences in the Arabian Gulf region. First available to the public outside of Saudi Arabia, the exhibit included paintings of Saudi women cooking lunch, Bahraini girls playing by the sea, and a market scene.
“My mother was very active on the Saudi art scene in the 1980s and at that time art was not celebrated as it is today,” says Basma Al Zamil, Al Dubaikhi’s daughter. “Throughout her career she was very passionate about art and returned to it after retiring from her teaching job.”
In his later years, Al Dubaikhi’s work was exhibited in galleries in major Saudi cities, including Riyadh, Jeddah, and his hometown of Dammam. “She broached socio-cultural subjects and spoke very clearly about family and women’s issues in the country,” explains Al Zamil. “She was in her own way an ambassador for women’s rights. She was also very keen on recording and documenting Saudi history – from a woman’s perspective – through her art. “
The family continues to preserve and present the art of Al Dubaikhi in the region. Speaking about the role that women artists play in the regional art scene, Al Zamil notes that women are comparatively more active now and that there seems to be more openness and willingness to tackle socio-cultural topics.
Omani graphic designer and photographer Marwa Al Kalbani also explores topics related to Arab society. In his latest work for the Khaleeji Art Museum, Moving Ideals: Challenging Niqabi Stereotypes in Arab Society, Al Kalbani presents a series of photographs that aim to shatter the stereotypical image of niqabis (women who wear the black veil) in the Arab world. world.
Against the backdrop of candy-colored rides in a theme park, Al Kalbani captures niqabi women as they enjoy their day. “The purpose of the series was to start a discussion for people to think about the expectations of society. Why is it “strange” to see a woman wearing the niqab doing anything that requires physical movement or even just having fun? “
In his work, Al Kalbani uses a whimsical approach to send a serious message. The inspiration for this series came from his own perception. “When I was younger, I thought that women who wore the niqab should behave in a serious manner,” she says. Eventually her perception changed and she realized that these ideals were brainwashed by society.
“You always hear people making up rules about how other people should live their lives. We have so many societal standards and expectations, not just for niqabis, but for every woman, ”she adds.
As more and more women take their place on the regional arts scene, Al Kalbani is happy to see women speak out and highlight social issues that affect other women as well. “With the issues revolving around women, it’s important to have their voice and experience,” she says. “Women are an integral part of our society and expressing our opinions is essential to the development of our communities. Al Kalbani believes that art helps convey powerful messages and educate the public on issues that are not often talked about, due to the cultural stigma associated with it.
Emirati artist Sumayyah Al Suwaidi is a digital artist who creates portraits of women juxtaposed with surreal elements like bird cages, feathers and flowers, giving the illusion of an alternate world. Entitled She Loved Me, her work at the Khaleeji Art Museum combines fashion and luxury in a portrait of a woman. In most of her works, Al Suwaidi considers femininity in different situations. “My work is also a private diary, documenting my daily experiences,” she explains.
Al Suwaidi notes that there are many opportunities for new and upcoming female artists to share their art, and young women are much more confident in sharing their work with the public.
“Women bring many different perspectives,” she says. “Some speak of culture and heritage, others of family, relationships and friendships. And many talk about what is going on around us and what concerns us as human beings.