This is a photo taken many years ago in the 1980’s – if you look carefully you can see a line down the middle. This is actually a photo of two halves of a photo put back together. Mohammed Ali’s secretary took this photo of all of us, but then my father cut the photo in half. He and Mohammed Ali in one half of the photo and my mother, my sister and I (I am on the end) were left in the left half floating. My mother had half and my father kept the the other. When he passed away she found the other half and put them next to each other and took another photo so it would look whole again ……
This photo is very important to me, as a reminder of who I once was, my life as a female in my fathers home and in Riyadh. The physical things that have happened to the photo – how it was cut in half and put back again and how all this shows, are vital marks and traces that I find very powerful and metaphorical to what it was like to be part of my family and to be both an Arab or Egyptian muslim and to be Western. The semblance of wholeness is just that – the tensions in having a dual identity were traumatic and extreme. You can see the line where my father and mother join, they do not join up properly, they are in different realms.
The relevance of this photo to my blog is that it is a pivotal starting point for thinking about my art. I have been trying for some time to repress how much my art is actually about myself and my notions about myself as a woman and my identity and body. I had hoped to escape this and make it somehow more universal – but as hybrid Arab\Westerner there is no escape from this. It affects how you interact with people and how they think of you every day of your life. I morphed slowly and surely towards a more Western way of being for a long time. This seemed to afford me a space to be myself, or so I thought but in fact the tensions of a hybrid being mean that like some amphibious land/sea creature, it is not possible to spend too much time in either world without beginning to feel suffocated of either air or water.
This is a quick introduction to the beginning of how I would like to build and change my artist’s profile and portfolio. I think I have always been obsessed with mermaids and metamorphic beings but also in nets and traps, in fate and stories of escape. I think that people I work with very much perceive me as a Westerner as I am light haired and have a very English almost posh sounding voice. They obviously have never seen me belly dance ….. But I was brought up by my father to be an Arab and a muslim. I am not a practicing muslim any more. I dont know what I believe, but organised religion is not for me. My mother and the colonial schools we attended in Africa fed my sister and I a diet of Enid Blyton, Narnia, and other very English tales. I am both very English/British and very not at the same time. I am sure there are many people who are in this position and depending on their upbringing, feel the tensions and fault lines of this but also how it is liberating. It is a kind of freedom to not have to belong or conform and to slip back and forth into other’s worlds and minds.
My work is about my body – or woman’s body, but in a more universal way it is about the body and how it extends outside itself, into the physical world and in the world of the mind or imagination, to take on many forms. It is about a distressed body that is confused between realms – physical/ material and the imaginary and between earth and sky, between East and West.
I have always perceived myself a grotesque, hybrid, transgressive, disruptive being that does not remain in any category. I am not even sure always that I am a female or a human being – sometimes in one’s imagination one can feel more like some kind of animal or bird. I think that this is what, in the simplest of terms, my art is about.