Monday, August 18, 2014

My article about and Q&A with Shurooq Amin

Exhibition: “Shot! – The Untold Truth of Society Girls” by Shurooq Amin
Words: Azhar Alani - Paintings: Shurooq Amin - Venue: Lahd Gallery, Hampstead, London

Plato once said something to the effect that physical lust involves the eclipse of the soul by the body. When I saw “Take Me to Heaven” painting for the first time, I thought of it as the exact opposite: the soul has triumphed and eclipsed the body in total submission. The half-naked woman in the picture is kneeling totally, where the front of her face is touching a prayer mat or a small carpet she is using for, eh, meditating? Perhaps!Among Amin’s other paintings on display at the Lahd Gallery, this one stopped me, full stop. Amin, a multi-talented artist, presents local cultural dilemmas using traditional devices in an uncanny way - an art form that is hard to describe as just painting. The woman’s wild hairstyle in the “Take Me to Heaven” masterpiece connects it to another striking painting labelled “Medusas Resting”. Go figure!
The two asymmetrical wing-shaped tattoos in blue and red are not only located at the summit of the woman’s body as it’s kneeling, but it’s also the place where Amin shot this painting with a rifle using Hornet cartridge. She said in an interview that she felt, after having done the paintings, that “there was something missing.” That’s when Amin pointed at either the heart or the “summit” of the main character(s) in the pictures and shot them with a rifle to finish off the artworks. Hence the name of this exhibition: “Shot!” as all paintings on display have been actually shot at by the artist. It’s quite a scene when the paintings are viewed in the Gallery where the telltales of the passing bullets are staring at you when you look closer.
And here is another twist: in some countries, like the UK, this particular type of bullet, the Hornet, is prohibited from use on deer for game hunting. Was the aim of shooting then to kill, one wonders - if we use deer as a metaphor for women? And the reason why this type of cartridge is prohibited on deer, you may ask? These bullets are considered “sub-powered.” Now all of a sudden we find ourselves thinking about the suffering of the women portrayed in the pictures. Was Amin trying to show that in the Middle East the “upper crust” has no mercy or bravery to end the suffering of those “society girls," as they are customarily known, who usually fall victim to judgemental labels and misconceptions? Or are we all misled to think this way when those “Medusas” are hiding behind their veils and with that obscuring their true colours?

I wonder if Amin sees herself as an Arab “suffragette” - someone, in her own style, campaigning for the rights of women locally. But where exactly is “locally”? Previous exhibitions by Amin touched upon the identity issue by depicting the polarity of West vs. East and how this contrast plays a huge role in the making of the Arab youth and shaping their aspirations. It’s the inverse of Orientalism if you like: how the West is depicted in the Middle Easterners' mind. 
Like other seminal works of art, Amin’s paintings are loud. They provoke some fundamental questions. I left the gallery with my thoughts already longing to go back and see the paintings afresh. The questions those paintings got me asking started to sound like a true and genuine tone; a voice that I know too well: “I” was asking “myself” about “me.” Amin managed to bring all the three of “us” together right in front of this great painting where the soul was calling: “Take Me to Heaven.”
- Azhar

Q&A with Shurooq Amin
After publishing the article above about Shot! I (AA) asked Amin (SA) few questions about her work.
AA: “Take me to heaven” is a very provocative piece of art; to say the least. Can you tell us a little bit more about it?
SA: “Take Me to Heaven” raises the question of religion vs spirituality. The source of humanity is nakedness; we are born naked. Our connection to God, or to the source, the universe, or whatever you have faith in, is a connection based on purity and intimacy. Whether we pray five times a day or not at all, whether we go to Haj or never set foot near the kabbaa, whether we wear Hijab or a bikini, spirituality comes from within. And a true Muslim should know that God is omnipotent, all-knowing, all-seeing, all-hearing. Hence, this painting is not simply that of a "naked woman praying", and certainly lust was not implicated when it was painted; however, it urges the viewer to open a dialogue and question the validity of religious rituals vs true spirituality.
AA: The UK prohibits the use of Hornet bullets on deer (for game shooting) because it’s “underpowered.” Can you explain your choice of this type of rifle cartridge? (If we can think of deer as a metaphor for women)
SA: I chose the Hornet bullet simply because it was aesthetically the most suitable for my work: it dug through the canvas and the wood in a clean, crisp manner, leaving behind it the right size hole, subtle and understated. I had no idea that it was prohibited in the UK when I decided on using it, nor was I thinking of deer as a metaphor for women. But then again, I find that very interesting indeed. You might get better answers if you hypnotize me, as I've been told my subconscious is far more aware than my conscious [but then again, that applies to everyone, doesn't it :) ].
AA: I found your poem “The Other Wife” a bit out-of-character when viewed against your repertoire. One can sense a deep lsense of oss and longing from a woman who was meant to be up against all what life throws at her.... Was this poem a “one-off”?
SA: No, the poem 'The Other Wife' is not a one-off. In my poems, I frequently take on different personas. Instead of writing about a character, I "become" that character. That poem was triggered by a true story that happened to a friend of a friend. I was instantly disturbed by it. I wanted to be in her shoes and see how it felt, what made a woman reach that level of victimization.
AA: Do you see yourself as an Arab “suffragette” if there is such a movement within the Arab world?

SA: Others see me that way, but I certainly don't. I've done nothing to deserve that title, other than just be really brave (reckless?), and not care at all what critics or fundamentalists say about me. I say things as they are, write without censorship, and paint with integrity. Ultimately, most of my poems, short stories, and paintings are shocking and controversial; but then again, someone's got to do it, say it, paint it. Why not me? When I get a emails or facebook messages or phone calls from fans or clients or other artists saying that I've inspired them, opened up dialogues for them, or just helped them in some way, that's enough for me.

To find out more about Shurooq Amin click here.
For her latest exhibition click here. 

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