I AM: New art exhibit showcases the brilliant work of contemporary Middle Eastern women

By on January 10, 2018

Artist Maitha Demithan’s “Mother”

There are so many misconceptions people who have never been there have about the Middle East and what it’s like to live there, said Emy diGrappa of the Wyoming Humanities Council. There are even more when it comes to what it’s like to be a woman in the area.

On Friday, people have a chance to gain a deeper insight into life in the Middle East from people who actually live there thanks to “I AM,” an exhibit featuring work from 31 contemporary Middle Eastern artists. The artists are all women and represent 12 different countries.

Art is one of the most effective mediums to enhance understanding, bring about respect and deepen relationships between people of cultures, said Paul- Gordon Chandler, founding president of CARAVAN, the organization bringing the exhibition to Jackson.

CARAVAN wanted to highlight the role Middle Eastern women play in the region and globally, Chandler said in an email interview. The exhibit offers a chance to address common stereotypes and change the narrative surrounding Middle Eastern women who are often misrepresented or unacknowledged.

“At the same time, this exhibition is a response to the many challenges facing women around the world today,” he said. The exhibition, which will hang in the Center Theater Gallery through Feb. 25, opens Friday with a special program featuring multimedia artist Alia Ali from Yemen. She’ll speak about her experience as an artist and woman and how art can offer a bridge between cultures.

Mahmoud “Mood” Chouki, a guitarist and composer from Morocco, and Chandler, the founder of CARAVAN, will also present at the Friday opening.

Janet Rady, a specialist in Middle Eastern contemporary art, curated the exhibition. It features a variety of mediums including oil paint, collage, photography, calligraphy and scenography. The majority of artists in the show are well-established, but a few emerging-artists were also invited to participate, Chandler said. The works are varied in style, but also in the experiences and insights the artists share and convey. The collective exhibit is meant to be thought-provoking, Chandler said.

Chandler said he hopes people gain a better understanding of the Middle East and Middle Eastern women as they balance their culture and religion in a rapidly changing world.

“This exhibition celebrates the unique voice of women in shaping a harmonious world and aims to remind us all of our similarities and the need for peaceful coexistence,” Chandler said.

The Wyoming Humanities Council is co-presenting the exhibition, which has already shown in Jordan, Washington D.C. and London.

The goal is to build bridges between the Middle East and the West, diGrappa said. The art allows the women to share their own narratives and experiences directly with the viewer.

“Every woman’s life is full of stories,” diGrappa said. The Wyoming Humanities Council is using the exhibition as a catalyst for local conversations specifically on gender- based violence, diGrappa said.

“Gender-based violence, especially violence against women, knows no political, socioeconomic or cultural boundaries,” she said. “It’s an issue all over the world, whether you live in the United States, or the Middle East.”

The Wyoming Humanities Council is sponsoring an even Jan. 21 with speakers presenting on how to move forward after traumatic experiences. On Feb. 11, it is bringing a speaker from the Faith Trust Institute to offer workshops for those with jobs that deal with domestic violence such as police officers and counselors.

“We are trying to address local issues,” diGrappa said. “This is one of those things that is really hard to talk about and ‘I AM ‘is a catalyst for having some of those critical conversations.” PJH

I AM, an art exhibition organized by CARAVAN featuring 31 contemporary Middle Eastern women artists from 12 countries, opens Friday, show hangs in the Theater Gallery at the Center for the Arts through Feb. 25. Opening program 5:30 to 8 p.m. with speakers and performance at 6:15 p.m. Friday, $15, Center for the Arts.


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