Anabta: Faces for Masks: An Experimental Exhibition … Women and girls in search of their real faces
“I used to think that I did not love art. I am a housewife. I left school when I was in the 9th grade. I have spent my life cooking and doing the laundry. When I came here, they told me to paint, write and express myself. Little by little, I felt I was changing. Now, I love to write. I tell my son to bring something to paint or make clay. This experience has changed me. I feel I am stronger and that I have something to express.”
This is how Khadijah Da’as, 40 years old, describes her experience in the Faces for Masks: An Experimental Exhibition, where she presented an art work. This was a clay sculpture of a personality that had a profound impact on her life and contributed to shaping her personal story. Khadijah decided that she herself be that personality.
In an activity titled Full Moon (14th Night of the Moon), another 13 women between the ages of 40 and 60 shared the same experience with Khadijah. In the other section of the exhibition, 20 young women participated in the photography corner, titled Hold the Camera.
On Thursday, 3 January 2019, the Educational Research and Development Programme (ERDP) of the A.M. Qattan Foundation (AMQF) inaugurated the art exhibition in Anabta. The event was implemented in collaboration with the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and Women Development House in the context of the Culture, Art and Social Engagement project.
Malik Al-Remawi, Manager of the ERDP Languages and Humanities Track, explained that the title of the exhibition, Faces for Masks, reflects the essence of the project. It is the quest for our real faces as individuals so that we can divulge and discover them through various forms of arts. Most often, we are forced to live behind masks, which are imposed on us from the outside.
“The second part of the title, Experimental Exhibition, reflects the fact that the exhibition was not the end product in itself. It builds on the project experience and exhibits its products.” Al-Remawi added.
In the first exhibition room, visitors engage with 14 head sculptures, which are placed in glass boxes that hang from the ceiling. Each head tells the story of a participant as well as her feelings and life experiences. So proudly, Khadijah points to her art work. Although it might not be brought to perfection, she says the art work expresses herself.
Particularly interesting in the exhibition are the texts that accompany the art works. These hold some kind of symbolism and reflect personal details of the participants. Professional sculptures are attached with labels, showing the type of material and size of the art work. At the same time, we see scripts that reflect those women’s feelings of the imagined colour, scent, and touch.
Trainer Petra Barghouthi makes clear that Full Moon (14th Night of the Moon) is “not an exhibition of sculptures. Participants are not artists. However, they dealt with clay in an expressive way after they had participated in several encounters on therapeutic arts.” Petra asserted that she sought to unleash these women’s imagination in an attempt to explore, be aware of, and shape themselves in the way they, not the social environment, wished.
Barghouthi said that symbolism was employed used by reflecting names and employing imagination. This made the participants feel safer to express themselves. According to Barghouthi, the significant challenge in the project was to open discussions on sensitive issues, which women in our society experience, without creating a conflict with society. In the opinion of Barghouthi, what is required is change, not conflict.
In the next room, the audience watch a film, in which a 60-year-old woman tells a story while she is creating a head sculpture. She talks about a woman who collects stories and community issues, which women in Palestine and other conservative societies are exposed to. The video work might suggest that what is said about, or imposed on, women is less important than what they carve by their own hands.
Full Moon (14th Night of the Moon) becomes completely full in the third exhibition room. In a performance titled Birth Certificate, Rahaf Ghanem shocks the audience with a series of events and things associated with the number 14. She is a girl stuck in time and place. Her age was misrepresented in order to marry her. Hence, her soul was forged and she was left stuck at the age of 14.
A group of young women participated in the other section of the exhibition, titled Hold the Camera. These participants take interested visitors on a tour around their exhibition on the second floor of the Women Development House. The premise is a heritage house that was renovated a few years ago.
At the entrance to the exhibition, Shahd Abdul Qader, 16 years old, meets you with a collection of her photos. Both confidently and spontaneously, she is ready to introduce you to her idea. Shahd appears in three photos, riding a bicycle in the centre of her town of Anabta.
Shahd says that she chose this theme because she wished that the day would come when girls in Anabta could ride bicycles without community restrictions. Shahd says she has been deprived of riding a bicycle for a long time just because she is a girl. Through her project, Shahd attempts to change the society’s perception of this issue or, at least, discuss the idea.
In a collection of photos next to Shahd’s project, another participant chose to proposed the idea of preventing girls from travelling alone in her community. She expressed this issue by taking a photo of a passport placed in memorial frame - an allusion to the fact that the passport is of no use for girls in a society where they are denied to travel by themselves.
In their works, all 20 young women examined individual issues and freedoms. They also addressed public concerns, such as environmental pollution and negligence of heritage houses. This part of the exhibition also features a documentary film, titled This is My Face, This is Me. In this film, girls talk to the camera about their experience in photography.
Photographer Bilal al-Khatib says that the project began in a technical workshop to teach young men and women how to use the camera. The idea was then developed to train them on how to express their opinions and ideas through the photo; that is, how they see things.
“The exhibition was a prelude to a community dialogue. The goal is not to create an art exhibition of visual impressions as much as to provide a space to raise questions. Most prominently, since these young women are part of their community, the exhibition combines personal and community concerns.” Al-Khatib went on.
Al-Khatib said he saw a significant change among the participants throughout the project phases. While they seemed to be more shy and secluded in early encounters, these young women have come to discuss their ideas more confidently and openly by the end of the project. Expressing her approval, Masah al-Balbisi, a 19-year-old participant, indicates that the project has changed her view of photography. Now, she thinks more of the message of every photo. She also applies all the technical aspects she has learned.
During the inauguration ceremony, Jihad Sabboubah, Director of the Women Development House, said she was happy that the exhibition was a culmination of women’s honest expression. Through trainings in drama and therapeutic arts, these women have expressed their feelings without masks. Young women were also creative in the photography encounters. Sabboubah highlighted that the exhibition would have not been successful without collaboration with the local community.
Wasim Al-Kurdi, ERDP Director, stated: “The project essentially comprises two parts. The first is the product in the exhibition halls. The second and more important is the process and interaction between women and girls, including the dialogue, engagement, reading, research, criticism, and analysis. We cannot see this development so clearly right now. However, we can feel it in the lives of these women and girls, in the lives of men and children, as well as in those around them and those who communicate with them.
Launched three years ago, the Culture, Art and Social Engagement project has carried out activities in six local communities, including Anabta. The project aims at promoting social responsibility and engagement though culture and arts.
The exhibition and preparatory training events were curated and supervised by Al-Remawi together with Artists Petra Barghouthi and Bilal al-Khatib, Abd Al Kareem Hussein, ERDP Researcher and Coordinator, Samah Khawaja, ERDP Assistant Coordinator, Jihad Sabboubah, Director of the Women Development House, and Randa Abu Saa’, Activity Coordinator at the Women Development House, Anabta.
The exhibition was inaugurated in the presence of Abdul Fattah Nour, Mayor of Anabta, representatives of the directorate offices of the Ministry of Culture, Ministry of Social Development and Ministry of Education, Al-Kurdi, Sabboubah, and Fida Touma, AMQF Director General. The launching ceremony also brought together a large number of local residents and interested peop