The Arab Spring has only just begun. As Eliot pointed out, mixing memory and desire is a cruel business, and the winter of (passivity) kept us warm. But to cite another literary and seasonal reference, this time by Anais Nin: “the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” The mark of a true revolution is not merely overthrowing old regimes, but ushering in new ways of thinking and being. In this sense, one can safely say that revolutions of the minds in the Middle East are still stirring—and being conducted on many frontiers. One need not be a feminist or even an activist to agree that, alongside the political, religious, and economic challenges, there remains a sexual one. Which is to say that, within patriarchal societies, gender equality as a basic human right is a critical element in any successful revolutions.
Kuwaiti/Syrian artist Shurooq Amin is such a freedom-fighter. A self-confessed ‘creative thorn in their sides’, Amin, who is also a poet and a professor at Kuwait University, is a natural-born provocateur and fearless in addressing sexual politics through her art. Her arresting canvases typically mirror socio-political ills and hypocrisies; for example, female oppression – veiled faces, child brides, gagged mouths, and bound hands – or the contradictions of Western influence (technology, culture, fashion). This is the artist as activist, shedding light on social injustices while illustrating the perversions of pleasure, or what happens when needs are denied a natural outlet, and grow sick. While respected in Kuwait, and internationally recognized, Amin’s daring has not gone without censure at home. Her series It’s a Man’s World (March 7, 2012) was shut down by local Kuwait authorities after only 3 hours on the premise that the artworks were “pornographic” and “Anti-Islamic”, accusations she contests. (The controversy worked in her favor, was covered widely, and she even trended on Twitter.) Not one to back down, Amin’s latest collection (at the Ayyam Gallery) shows how censorship is the mother of creativity. Evocatively titled Popcornographic, she continues to poke where it hurts, examining sensitive subjects such as religious taboos in the Arab world.
– by Yahia Lababidi