Western media often portrays Muslim women as living a life of oppression, inequality, sadness, suffering and exploitation, devoid of freedom of speech and independent thinking.
I AM is a strategic peace-building art exhibition aiming to challenge existing stereotypes about Middle Eastern women by showing that they are current, contemporary, engaged, active, dynamic and contribute very significantly to the fabric of local and global culture. This exhibition is an acknowledgement of how they continue to creatively evolve new narratives that uphold their heritage while embracing a future full of challenges.
I AM is showcasing the work of 31 female artists from Iran, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Bahrain, Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia, Iraq, Morocco, the UAE and the Palestinian territories–two of the selected artists are Iranian, Soheila Sokhanvari and Azadeh Ghotbi. The exhibit is a celebration of dynamic women contributing to the fabric of local and global culture.
The exhibition, organized by international arts NGO, Caravan, premiered at the National Gallery of Fine Arts in Amman, Jordan (3 May – 14 June) and is now being showcased at London’s St. Martin in the Fields on Trafalgar Square for the months of July and August (2 July -20 August). Following the London exhibit are stops in North America from the fall of 2017 through the end 2018, premiering in Washington, D.C. at American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center (September 5-October 22, 2017).
The influential Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan, who was a patron at the exhibit’s premiere in Jordan, says: “I am amazed by the misconceptions about Muslim women and the Arab world that I hear, and that really hurts me.
“I hope that as this exhibition opens in cities worldwide, and people look through this window into our lives, they see what I see – what I’ve always known: that the people of the Middle East are as warm and welcoming as they are generous and open-minded. And that, today, perhaps more than ever, they are eager to forge friendships beyond their own borders in the name of a stronger, more harmonious global family.”
The 31 women artists selected for I AM are premier artists of Middle Eastern origin and cover a broad geographic area from 12 countries. Some noted emerging artists were also selected for participation.
The choice to select solely women artists for this project is due in part to their underrepresentation in the global art scene, and more pertinently, because of the large number of very talented women artists of Middle Eastern origin who produce outstanding work that is of global importance.
Sokhanvari is a talented Iranian-born artist whose multidisciplinary work weaves layers of political histories with bizarre, humorous and mysterious narratives that are then left to viewer’s own sensitivity to complete.
Despite her talents as an artist, the Cambridge-based Sokhanvari started as a research scientist earning a degree in biochemistry at Cambridge University.
In an interview with a-n, she says: “I started as a research scientist, getting my first degree in biochemistry at Cambridge University. Then I decided that I wanted to follow my ambition and so I entered art school in 2001 studying art history and fine art, eventually getting an MFA from Goldsmiths in 2011. One half of me is a scientist and the other is an artist. I like the idea of trying to bridge the gap between art and science; I see myself as an artist-alchemist.”
Sokhanvari’s work has been shown at ‘TECTONIC,’ The Moving Museum, Dubai (2013) and selected for ‘Young Gods,’ Charlie Smith Gallery (2011). She was one of the UK graduates shortlisted for the Catlin Art Prize in 2012 and has been exhibited as one of the top seven new art graduates for EXTRACT at GL Strand, Copenhagen (2011).
Azadeh Ghotbi, also born in Iran, studied at Brown University and at INSEAD, lived most of her life in France & the U.S., and is currently based in Germany.
This nomadic life has deeply influenced the painter’s practice. “I experienced revolution, loss, exile, and the idiosyncrasies of feeling proud of one’s heritage yet stateless early in life,” says Ghotbi.
“The passing of time has only made me further appreciate and cherish the importance of history, roots and cultural ties. Diaspora, statelessness, transience, lack of continuity are my normal. However, I have found that such experience can bear unexpected gifts of strength, adaptability, empathy, and a heightened sense of observation. The cumulative effect of all this imparts and reflects itself upon my work.”
I AM is at St Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square, London, until August 20. It will tour the United States later this year.