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‘Saudi Women in The Arts' ignites intense debate
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 17 - 09 - 2015

JEDDAH — More than 30 Jeddah art aficionados and cultural cognoscenti gathered at the US Consulate General on Monday for a panel discussion on the topic of “Saudi Women in The Arts”.
The gathering, part of the ongoing public affairs series “Friends of The Arts,” presented the work and perspectives of artist/scholar Dr. Lina Kattan, painter/professor Samiah Khashoggi and photographer Suzan Iskandar. Lina Kattan, a graduate in Islamic Art Education from King Abdulaziz University and a PhD in Visual and Performance Arts from Texas Tech University, presented selections from her recent projects.
Employing a unique approach known as collaborative art, some of Kattan's works are a fusion of creativity from two or more artists. She also discussed pieces from her recent US exhibition, some of which portray women wearing niqab (face veil) and burkas (a long, loose garment covering the whole body, worn in public by many Muslim women).
Samiah Khashoggi, professor of Interior Design at Dar Al-Hekma University, has degrees from Kingston University and De Montfort University UK in 2006. Since 1990, Khashoggi's life has been divided between her academic profession and an art practice. In 2005, Khashoggi founded Saudiaat, a women artists' group diverse in their styles and techniques united by their gender and solidarity. She has extensive experience with digital art.
Born in Mecca, the artistic talents of Suzan Iskandar were discovered even while in elementary school. She began her professional career in 2002 as a newspaper photographer covering events and official ceremonies. This past summer she was the featured artist at the Jeddah Festival, with a pavilion exclusively devoted to her images of the Two Holy Mosques and the surrounding region.
Following the formal presentations, the three Saudi artists fielded numerous questions from an inquisitive, predominantly male, audience. Responding to a query on her series of women's face coverings, Dr. Kattan stated, “Whenever I do artwork, I like to research the religious documents. I put it as an open statement to the spectators for them to judge for themselves about the idea”.
Kattan explained that “In every series I try to focus on an idea that there is a confusion between religion and tradition. I try to make the spectator think about the work. Whenever I do any artwork, I like to research the religious documents.”
Kattan's international exhibitions include "Where East Meets West", shown in California in 2013. She has also published several essays, including Re-visiting Gender Roles and Expectations: A Saudi Female Artist Deconstructs Degas.
Khashoggi has exhibited in numerous group shows. Her first solo exhibition, "Reflections," was held in 2000 at Al-Alamiya Art Gallery in Jeddah. Her art developed from conventional realism to a more stylized expressionist approach.
Describing her recent work, she mentioned the collages as a process of “collecting textures” and incorporating collages. “I prefer that there is a bit of humanity and a bit of a personal touch in everything. The digital world is becoming too flat and too repetitive, computerized, robotic.”
Women and nature have been Khashoggi's main subjects, moving from oil painting to acrylics, collage and mixed media, constantly exploring different methods of visual expressions. Her second solo exhibition Mashii Mashii debuting her Patches series, in 2014 at Tashkeil, Jeddah. She later curated Anonymous … Was A Woman at Hafez Gallery, Jeddah in 2015.
The desert atmosphere is dominant in Khashoggi's Patches paintings. “The colors are southern because I grew up in Abha,” she explained.
Answering a question from the audience about the dominant, empty areas of her paintings of women in abayas, Khashoggi explained, “You give space for the composition to breathe. If I complicate it, it will take away from the structure itself. The presence of 'the ladies' has to be the most important thing.”
In a discussion about the faceless features of the women she paints, Khashoggi mentioned, “Until now, I don't know if it's haram (prohibited) or not. It strengthens the fact that my figures are faceless, because they can be anyone. Now I am interested in social issues.”
In her introductory comments, she said, “I love to add to the happiness of mankind.”
Suzan Iskandar showed her recent book of photos of the Two Holy Mosques. She said photography uses a language that is universally understood and her message helps others understand more about Islam.
One of her thrilling experiences was how her photographs became a catalyst in a Chinese man converting to Islam. “My photographs convey an unseen message,” she stated. She has covered major events in the region such and her first exhibition Jeddah was in 2008.
Iskandar recently published a book, Atyaf Al-Haramin, with images of sweeping panoramas and aerial photos of the Two Holy Mosques and environs. The US Consulate has recently held theme-based panel discussions on topics such as Saudi Photographers and Saudi Filmmakers and plans to continue the series each month. — SG

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