Tell us about the title of your exhibition.
“Until Total Liberation” is an often-used slogan in Palestinian revolutionary politics and is seen in a number of Palestinian Liberation Organization posters. Over the last 100 years or so, Middle Eastern women in photography, postcards, newsreel cinema, and other images perpetuate the idea of a very singular struggle with patriarchal oppression. These representations and their narrow focus in no way address the complexity and diversity of the Middle Eastern experience, let alone the female experience. Middle Eastern women do not merely bear the burden of representation, but also actively and currently, struggle with access, security, displacement, socio-economic mobility, and very simply, human rights. The title enforces that until, as a people, we are afforded the same human rights as our Western counterparts, we will never truly, and fully, be liberated. It also provides an intersectional moment in its reference to universal women’s experiences in general.
What do you want viewers to take away from your exhibition?
Historically, Middle Eastern and North African women were portrayed from the Western perspective as exotic, sexual temptresses, or the “other” making them of objects of desire but also revulsion. Featuring myself as the protagonist, the photographs suggest colonial-era photographs and contemporary imagery popularized through the media, but ultimately act as an artistic intervention from a Palestinian Iraqi female’s perspective. Representation of female slaves, the sultan’s harem, the mashrabiya (an Arabic architecture element of homes also mistakenly referred to as a “harem’s window” in English), water pipe and water vessel were part of a non-ambiguous strategy of staging otherness.
Appropriating film rushes made between 1935–1955 by the British Pathé, the video addresses the early period in which motion picture “newsreel” cinema was popular in the West. Their depictions of Middle Eastern women and their lifestyles are reframed to magnify the problematic nature of their reporting. These film rushes are interwoven with footage of myself as live, human water feature in the tradition of human sculpture as a water fountain often found in public spaces or traffic circles.
All of the works in the exhibition make reference to the presentation and representation of women, some more directly, like those in the studio space, and some refer to an absence, as in the sculpture on the roof. The sculpture is out in the public sphere just as the iconic fountain Kahramana, by Mohammed Ghani Hikmat, it references in Baghdad, Iraq. The fountain depicts a scene from Ali Babba and the 40 thieves, in which a sharp slave girl (Marjanah) outwits the 40 thieves reflecting the ingenuity and self-reliance of women, even under physical danger. The sculpture on the roof here at Artpace is separate materially from the rest of the exhibition, so it’s displaced. The silhouetted figure calls attention to the invisibility of Iraqi women who have disappeared or been assassinated since 2003.
Ultimately, I’m confronting our image-history through a feminist and postcolonial lens. The project is an implicit critique of the social exploitation generated over a century, while disrupting the paradigm through a strategy of assigning power through the female body and narration of her stage.
The artist wishes to thank all those who contributed to UNTIL TOTAL LIBERATION, including:
Mohammed Ghani Hikmat; Patrick Kay, Cruz Ortiz & Lenzy Mora / Snakehawk Press; Aaron Coleman; Mark Menjivar; Khulood Badawi; Carlton Bradford; Janet Flohr & Gary Nichols / Hare and Hound Press; Ray Lynch / King of Neon; Jennifer Ling Datchuk; Roshini Kempadoo; Dr. Deborah Willis; Arab Fund for Arts and Culture; Anthony Rundblade; Michael Foerster; Charles Kitchen; Chris Castillo; Leticia Rocha-Zivadinovic; Riley Robinson; Conor Fitzgerald; Zakiriya Gladney; Mahmood Gladney; Marvin Gladney; Michael Fadel; Maha Cantelo; Rose Tadaro; University of Arizona; Imane Saliba & Nadine Saliba; Alex Turner; Brian Ganter; and Ayyam Gallery.