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When curiosity killed the cat

Questioning is one of the most important skills you will have. No matter what age, there are some questions that you will always be wondering about - or feel curious about. Sometimes, these questions are ones that may seem trivial to others, but they are still important. Curiosity has led me on many adventures and left me with a few regrets.

Still from the video ‘willingness to Act’ 2010 with artist Alessandro Rauschmann

Above you see a picture of me walking a man like a dog, while wearing a Daffa, which is a traditional Bahraini Islamic apparel it was the re-enactment of a western feminist icon ‘Valie Export’ performing Feminism on the streets of Vienna in 1968. The opportunity to explore this subject was a suggestion by my collaborator a German male artist ‘Alessandro Rauschmann’ with the intention to re-enact Western art history in Bahrain. I wanted to experience the radical, the forbidden, the rebellious and more importantly, Feminism as I knew it in 2010. The artist asked me to wear the Daffa as a symbol I regret not examining thoroughly. At the time I was focused on the shame I felt to humiliate the artist by asking him to crawl like a dog in public, while at the same time being intoxicated by the thrill of forbidden territories. Conceptually as an artist, the real question to me was “Does western feminism apply to Middle Eastern women?” After 10 years of that performance I revisited this narrative.

In 2019, I found myself in Berlin, Germany, working with some German artists who were curious about the black veil, particularly as worn by women from the GCC. I was curious to understand apart from Orientalism, why the group had such an interest in this? I wanted to explore the subject of the veil in a way that allowed me to speak about it in my own way with my Art. I was trying to reflect with the group from a westernized perspective on intellectually equal ground. I understood their perspective of the veil and Islam as purely conceptual, a concept of erasure, black as a colour and themselves as artists underneath this block of total blackness which is radical in their western societies. The artists were bringing themselves to this conversation as deeply experimental, intellectual individuals void of religion, culture and ethics.

© Generali Foundation Collection-Permanent Loan to the Museum der Moderne Salzburg © VBK, Photo: Josef Tandl

However, we were not on equal ground. On the opening night I was surprised by the sudden appearance of a new video, installed in conversation with my piece titled “Mutamarida” which means ‘Back slider or Sinner’. Facing my work was a video of one of the artists in a Black Burqa (Traditional to Saudi Arabia) with her legs spread, masturbating showing her underwear and her fingers underneath. Both the artist and the

curator were unaware of the impact of their actions, and defended the video as harmless, spoken in politically correct, sensitive languages and narratives about activism that flooded honourable causes. This was the exact language that seduced me into participating by sparking my curiosity about open, equal conversation about Western feminism and religion; before the appearance of this video. I never cease to be amazed by how an agenda can appear harmless under such a politically righteous disguise.

The curator refused to change the position of my work with regards to this newly introduced piece, despite the fact that this artwork completely changed the meaning of what I had hoped to communicate in my own work. The consequence of taking things too far hurts women in Islamic communities by portraying a secular appropriation which fails to recognise or understand alternative interpretations or representations of modesty. This moment marked the beginning of ending my relationship with ‘Woke’ culture or art about ‘social Justice’. I will write a blog post about this some other day. As people poured in to the exhibit opening, I was anxious; I tried to keep face, roaming around complaining discretely to friends and some strangers - while still smiling. I also danced in my hopelessness, an action easily miss interpreted as joy, but in this case served to calm my frazzled nerves. That night, I found it difficult to sleep I felt stuck in the contract I had signed with the gallery. However, before my flight to Helsinki I decided to pull out of the Exhibit. This was the right decision and I immediately felt extremely relieved. So what did I learn from all this?

I learned that in a situation, where I am the only participant of non-Western upbringing, I am not participating on equal ground. I learnt that part of my openness comes from the contrasting approaches between the way I was trained at art school in Australia, to think conceptually regarding Western Art, compared to the culture I come from, where artistic thoughts are communicated metaphorically. I also learnt that I constantly contemplate the purpose of ethics in life, and that perspective on this is influenced by the place you come from. The importance and impact of this is ever more important in light of cultural and technological changes that occur at an ever increasing rate. Finally, I learnt that I am extremely open, but that I do have my limits and they are final!

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