I luv Arabic music and also any kind of kick-ass Arabic Art or Arabic “influenced” Art and so you’re gonna see a lot of this kind of stuff in this new art section in the coming months.
Here’s some work that I discovered a few months back when I was looking for new cover inspirations for my recent ArabTronix mixtape series and this stuff just blew me away. I found it refreshing, humourous and tongue in cheek and quite different to anything I’ve ever seen before.
It’s work by a London based artist Hannah Habibi Hopkins.
Here’s what her website says about her:
Hannah Habibi Hopkin is a London based artist whose work explores gender, religion and identity. Her current work turns traditional concepts of embroidery, as a romanticised pastime for a docile woman, into a ‘weapon of resistance’ against gender constraints.
She did a very revealing interview for a BBC Religion & Ethics website and so I’ll be taking a lot of text from that interview to explain her work.
The artist traces her fascination with the Arab world back to her 14th birthday: “I was given a CD of an Egyptian singer, a lady singing rather tragic and wonderful songs. It didn’t really mean anything to me at that time, but as time went on I became obsessed with the songs and the culture.”
The evoking Egyptian music was the soundtrack of a personal journey. Ms Hopkin converted to Islam when she was 24 and wore the full hijab for several years.
The experience of being a white, blue-eyed girl wearing traditional Muslim dress in Britain, and the different ways in which people responded to it, was the spark for many of her works.
“I was regularly interrogated and asked why I was wearing the hijab,” she says. When she explained that it was due to her faith, many would go on to ask her why she was a Muslim, as they were puzzled by her non-Middle Eastern appearance.
“I find that people often project stereotypes upon you when you’re wearing a scarf,” she explains.
“Certain items of clothing, such as hijab and abaya, have become invested with such potent politicised symbolism – the wearer’s personal identity becomes secondary to her outward appearance.”
According to Ms Hopkin, the media often use images of women wearing Muslim dress to illustrate stories about oppression, or as a backdrop for reports on terrorism.
These are some of the stereotypes that she is keen to challenge through the use of familiar, accessible forms of art, such as pop art and comic-like graphics.
Her love of pop art guru Roy Lichtenstein, which blossomed when she was a child, is evident in many of her paintings. Like Lichtenstein, Ms Hopkin sometimes uses speech bubbles, a device typical of cartoon strips, to convey her message playfully.
In one of the canvases, a woman looks at the viewer through her niqab, as the text above her face reads: ‘If you could see her though my eyes…’, a reference to the song of the same title in the musical ‘Cabaret’.
The song tells of a man who is facing disapproval from his community because he has fallen in love with a Jewish woman. Ms Hopkins explains that she juxtaposed the lyrics with the image of a woman wearing a niqab because she feels there is a similar prejudice against Muslims today.
“There is also a play on words with the reference to eyes and the fact that the woman is wearing a niqab and all you can see are her eyes,” she adds.
A political undertone pervades Ms Hopkin’s bold adaptation of the proverbial ‘see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’, which was inspired by the events taking place in Egypt in 2011 during the so-called Arab Spring.
Ms Hopkins recalls following the reports closely: “There was a lot of graffiti springing up that was overtly critical of the government,” she says.
“This (above) piece is influenced by the visuals that I was seeing spray painted on the streets. The message is about censorship: it started off looking at the concept of state censorship, but also self-censorship, when people are too afraid or unable to speak.”
- The word hijab comes from the Arabic for veil and is used to describe the headscarves worn by Muslim women
- The niqab is a veil for the face that leaves the area around the eyes clear
- The burqa is the most concealing of all Islamic veils. It covers the entire face and body, leaving just a mesh screen to see through
Ms Hopkin is also aware of the “thriving Muslim feminist movement worldwide”, which she says is supported not only by women but also many Muslim men and has created debate among the disparate subcultures of Muslim womanhood.
“I feel that if only the voices of Muslim women were presented a little more by the media, rather than simply being ‘talked about’, we would all benefit and become a little more understanding of one another.”
TEXT taken from: