Museum  October 1, 2020  Manar Al Hinai

Artists from the Arab Gulf States Shine at Khaleeji Art Museum

Dana Al Rashid, The Spread of Panic, 2020.

We were parked in front of a sports gear shop almost three years ago when my sister and I expressed our frustration with the shortage of Gulf Arab writers in international media. By the end of that night, we planned to do something about it.

Manar Al Hinai

Since then, we have built Sekka, a media platform and online magazine that uncovers stories on arts and culture, among other topics, from the Gulf region and larger Arab world. Without planning it, today most of our content is produced by Arab women. At a time when female journalists around the world are underrepresented in media, we are proud that we are leading a positive change in the digital media front. 

Given that one of our publication’s main areas of focus is arts and culture, with time we became acquainted with a large number of emerging regional artists, and came to learn that one of the main challenges they face is gaining exposure.

Photo by Basma Al Zamil

Zakia Al Dubaikhi, Faces of A Woman, c. 1980s. Oil.

Artists from the Arab Gulf States in particular often complained that regional art galleries and exhibitions were dominated by a limited number of well-known and established artists, and thus emerging artists like them didn’t have a very high chance of getting exposure, and so they have felt excluded. At the same time, art patrons and female artists around the world have been advocating for an increase in the representation of female artists in the arts, and for art museums and galleries to display more works made by female artists. 

This led us to think of further ways that we could empower and support our community of emerging artists through, in addition to conducting feature interviews and profiles of them for our magazine and online platform. The COVID-19 crisis showcased the importance of digital experiences, and with many of us locked up at home, our appreciation of digital events has grown exponentially. We knew that the support we needed to provide to artists had to be digitally based, not only because of the current circumstances and the efficiency of a digital setup, but also because we would be able to share artists’ work more easily and with more visitors from across the globe.  And so, we launched the Khaleeji Art Museum, a digital museum experience that introduces visitors from all around the world to artists of the region, including female artists, through the various virtual exhibitions that we curate.

Ishaq Madan, Ramadan 1441

Our exhibitions are thematic, and revolve around important topics and events. Our first virtual exhibition, Khaleejis in the Time of Corona, shed a light on the experiences of Khaleejis (those who are from the Arab Gulf States) during these tough times. Artists and photographers shared their experiences with the COVID-19 crisis, quarantine, and the new normal, through art. We also organize solo exhibitions, and our latest featured the work of a female artist from Saudi Arabia, the late Zakia Abdulaziz Al Dubaikhi, whose paintings explore the society and culture of the Arab Gulf States, particularly those of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. We plan to dedicate more solo exhibitions to regional female artists, in addition to male artists.

Dana Al Rashid, The Wise One and the Plague, 2020.

We also knew that representation was an important variable even in our digital museum’s operations, and so we made sure that our museum team included women (in fact it is currently spearheaded by women).

Photo by Basma Al Zamil

Zakia Al Dubaikhi, Najdi Gahwa, 2017. Acrylic.

You may wonder why we feel strongly about representing more female artists in the media and especially in the arts. From my experience having worked in the media and communication front for ten years now, I know that having more female representation is not only good business but more importantly, it boils down to the importance of authenticity and providing an honest narrative and viewpoint. How authentic would an art experience really be if female artists were underrepresented? Would we really be providing a truthful, thorough art experience if we are underrepresenting female views, artistic expressions, and opinions? Could we really say that this art exhibition or gallery represents what a certain society or a culture expressed or felt if all of the work and viewpoints showcased were those of male artists? 

This is not to say that we are increasing the representation of female artists in our museum at the expense of male artists, but to keep in mind that when we do plan for an exhibition that showcases the work of different artists, we make sure that we offer as balanced a viewpoint as possible.

We hope that our humble contribution to increasing the representation of female artists in our region inspires others across different countries and regions to do the same, because only when we offer a more balanced representation of viewpoints are we providing a complete picture.

About the Author

Manar Al Hinai

Manar Al Hinai is the co-founder and Storyteller-in-chief of Sekka, and the co-founder of the Khaleeji Art Museum. She’s a journalist, author, and a serial entrepreneur who is passionate about art, culture, and entrepreneurship.

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