By Wided Khadraoui
Miracle is an exhibition curated by Saudi artist Hana Almoqbil at Quincy House, the US Ambassador’s Residence.
The subject of the exhibition is wrong.
Whether by curatorial mistake or lack of genuine development of young female artists, the exhibition overall failed to meet its potential.
Gendered language affects perceptions and the exhibition’s name, Miracle, merely reinforces the romanticized notion that women are, as stated in the catalog, “worthy of affection, mercy and generosity.” It’s a trite platitude that is at best pedestrian, and at worst renders women delicate, lace-frilled objects of masculine gaze.
This was an opportunity to really push concepts and explore the idea of women in Saudi society: the venue affords a certain liberty and there’s a wide array of dynamic female artists available. Instead, the exhibition fell flat.
This was another of those exhibitions full of artwork relying on the typical clichés that are all too often seen in the region’s gender-specific exhibitions: a heavy-handed reliance on abayas, obscured faces, chiaroscuro, Islamic geometry overlaying photographs of a foreboding sort, darkness and other symbols of ‘oppressed’ Muslim women.
I’ve yet to encounter an exhibition built around artists’ physical gender that produces a collection of powerful or evocative work. Most of the time the pieces are a regurgitation of overused notions and convey a general lack of original thought.
The experiences of women in any region are fundamentally different to those of their male counterparts. They are vast and unique, but are undermined by being continuously portrayed with a broad brushstroke by the very people who claim to represent those multitude of experiences.
The only exception was an artwork from Wa’ad Almujalli, who had two prints and an associated short film. Her work is almost like a moving manifestation of Korean artist Yong Ho Ji’s sculptures, which shares the same suggestive creepiness with the distorted body shape. A computer generated animation strips down the human body and overlays voice waves to correspondent with its movement.
A recent trend has been an over saturation of gender specific exhibitions that tend to fall flat time and time again, and yet gallerists, curators and other creative incubators fail to alter the clichéd approach. The over reliance on the trend produces middling duplications, and no new ideas. That such exhibitions are so singularly dismal is of little surprise when one considers that for such an exhibition to go ahead, any notion of artistic merit has necessarily been made frivolous and been replaced with no more than the artists’ gender. Building exhibitions around concepts, and not abayas is critical in furthering the regional creative scene.
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