Creative group in the UAE gives female artists a chance to tell their story

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The collective’s book “In the Middle of it All”.
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Jana Ghalayini’s work at Art Dubai invited visitors to draw on their responses.
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Features artists such as Nasreen Shaikh Jamala Lail.
Updated 25 May 2019

Creative group in the UAE gives female artists a chance to tell their story

  • Female-led art collective wants society to rethink the way women of color are perceived
  • Banat Collective publishes artworks in print and online and hosts events to encourage debate

DUBAI: Sara bin Safwan founded the Banat Collective in 2016 to connect with other like-minded people, championing
their art through the group’s website, banatcollective.com.
The group aims to help society to rethink the way women of color are perceived by showcasing contemporary art, poetry and other writings. The collective publishes artistic works in print and online and hosts events aimed at spreading awareness and encouraging debate.
“A lot of the artists are young and emerging and never had the chance to be either exhibited or publicized, so we interview them to offer a critical, insightful look at their work,” said Safwan, 25.


Now an assistant curator at Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, Safwan graduated from London’s world-famous Central Saint Martins college in 2015 with a degree in culture, criticism and curation.
It was while studying in Britain that she developed a keen interest in post-colonial theory; the Banat Collective focuses on themes relating to both womanhood and intersectionality, which is an analytic framework to identify how interlocking systems of power impact those most marginalized in society.
“The mission is not only to connect artists but open up discussions about Arab womanhood in the region, because there’s not necessarily any other place to do so. We do that through art, poetry and other writings,” Safwan said.
“I use the word ‘womanhood’ to make it a more accessible term because if I use ‘feminism,’ it’s a very politically charged word that has almost been tainted by Western ideologies. And those Western ideologies don’t necessarily fit within our context as Middle Easterners.”
“In the Middle of it All” is the collective’s debut publication. Released in 2018, the book is a 31-artist collaboration of visual art, writing and poetry. Our book is a means to help us stand out — it’s thoughtfully curated and tackles a specific issue, which is ‘coming of age’,” she says.
“It’s a notion that’s taboo in the Arab world and either unheard of or misunderstood. It was a chance for female artists to tell their own story.
“Throughout the book, we go through many topics such as puberty, identity, sexual harassment and abuse, sisterhood, motherhood, beauty standards and all these other societal expectations.”
The collective held its first exhibition as part of March’s Art Dubai fair, showcasing a short film, “Ivory Stitches & Saviors” by member Sarah Alagroobi, which she describes as an “unflinching glimpse into identity, colonialism and whitewashing.”
Says Safwan: “It’s a tribute to all women of color who have been marginalized and, all too often, erased.”
Another work by Palestinian-Canadian artist Jana Ghalayini is comprised of a 26-meter-long piece of chiffon on which visitors can draw with chalk pastels in response to questions posed by the artist including “How does your environment affect your identity?”
Safwan adds: “The themes we explored were vulnerability and community — it was a way to introduce ourselves in person because previously we only had an online presence.”
Born and raised in the UAE to Honduran and Emirati parents, Safwan is now working with Alagroobi and Ghalayini to brainstorm ideas for future projects that include a podcast series on the notion of shame. The collective is self-funded and run by volunteers.
“I hope there will be more opportunities to showcase our work and collaborate with others. This year, we will be publishing more content,” Safwan said.

This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of The Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.


A day in Elton John’s life: Buy Rolls, write hit song, dine with Ringo

Updated 19 October 2019

A day in Elton John’s life: Buy Rolls, write hit song, dine with Ringo

  • Diary entries helped jog Elton John’s memories from his 50-year career
  • ‘Even when I was doing a lot of drugs, I still carried on playing music’

LONDON: When Elton John was working on his new autobiography, the legendary singer, songwriter and performer pulled out diaries he had been encouraged to write during a stint in rehab.
One entry read like this: “Got up, tidied the house, bought a Rolls Royce, had dinner, wrote ‘Candle in the Wind,’ had dinner with Ringo Starr,” the musician said. “That was one day.”
John, 72, spoke in a video interview provided to Reuters by his publisher, Henry Holt & Co., to promote the release of his book, which is titled simply “Me.”
The diary entries helped jog John’s memories from his 50-year career filled with hit records, Grammy awards and royal friendships but also addiction and a suicide attempt two days before a show at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.
“I wanted to show the tough ride of being a successful artist, and how I went through tough times, and how I came out at the end and got my life together,” John said. “It’s the story of my life up to the present day, warts and all.”
In the book, the “Crocodile Rock” singer revealed recent health scares including a near-fatal infection and a serious bout with appendicitis. “I did like 10 or 11 shows, 24 flights, with a burst appendix,” he said.
John is currently in the middle of a lengthy “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” world tour that will bring his touring career to an end. In the interview, he said performing on stage “just never gets old.”
“I never go on stage late,” he said. “I just love to get out there and I’m raring to go.”
“Even when I was doing a lot of drugs, I still carried on playing music,” he added. “It’s been my touchstone of my whole life.”
A highlight, John said, came in 1975 when John Lennon joined him to perform three songs at Madison Square Garden. It was Lennon’s first appearance on stage in New York since the Beatles played Shea Stadium.
Lennon was so nervous that he vomited before the performance, John said. “He came out to probably the most touching ovation I’ve ever heard,” John said. “We all shed a tear on stage.”
John said he is not sure what his future holds but he is still writing songs.
“I don’t know what’s next and I don’t want to know what’s next,” he said. “I’m just ready for the next chapter.”