Shurooq Amin is a Kuwaiti artist, poet, and professor at Kuwait University. In two recent art exhibitions, “It’s a Man’s World” and “Society Girls,” Amin has explored themes of gender, identity, duality, religion, and hypocrisy in Middle Eastern and Arab societies. Her colorful mixed-media tableaux depict Kuwaitis in trendy clothes lounging, smoking hookah, and playing cards, their faces all eerily erased.
When I was in middle school, a friend of my parents gave me a sketchbook for a birthday I can’t remember. That sketchbook is in my house back in Arizona somewhere. The pages are full of pencil sketches that shows a time when I didn’t think too much about anything. There was school, homework, some free time, sleep, on repeat. The pages are mainly lots of fashion sketches, to doodles and swirls and hennah designs to magazine cutouts of things that amused me. College happened and work happened and it’s been a while, to say the least. I went onto photography to posting about other artists that I found inspirational and kept thinking about how I should/will eventually go back to doing some of my own.
There was a stint in Bangladesh when out of desperation (and in an attempt to get my mental sanity back) I just took a CNG and went to New Market one day and bought bunch of canvas and oil paint. I didn’t even bother bargaining and asserting my look-at-me-try-to-be-native-ness. I transformed one of the patios in my parents’ empty flat in Shymoli and painted away not thinking much. I eventually had to discard that patio because again, life happened- getting ready for grad school, going to social events, wrapping up my time. I just left my supplies there and have no idea how much dust has gathered around my paintings. (There was one painting, oil on canvas, of a deconstructed American flag, with just one diagonal white stripe. I painted this to spite my then-someone who was annoyed at me for missing home so much. It happens.)
I don’t know what it is about San Francisco that made me look up art supplies and make the walk today to Flax in SoMa.
I was feeling the same kind of unnecessary loneliness/desperation I did in Dhaka over a year ago, but also the need to get back to something that used to make me happy. When I entered the store, I was reminded back not of Arizona but Japan, when I was, for some reason, obsessed with stationary supplies and gel pens.
The high ceiling warehouse-esque art supply store was full of all types of paper and pen and amazing craft supplies. Everything smelled clean and new, waiting to be used. I left the place with just one, simply 5×8 black bound sketchbook.
The founder, Herman Flax moved out west during the Great Depression from New Jersey and opened this magical place in downtown SF in 1938. His brother became involved and Sam Flax opened the now art-supply chain.
The New York Times said it best:
From their glass-counter fiefs, Flax’s staff oversees a Willie Wonka factory of paper, ink and innovation. The large paper room of custom-made steel flat files holds about 9,000 varieties, ranging from pressed sheets with “floral inclusions” … to a Japanese silk-screened printed paper, or washi, at more than $20 a sheet.
I love this city.
I will post some sketches soon.
Flax Art and Design, 1699 Market Street, San Francisco; (415) 552-2355
Mindy Kaling’s show, “The Mindy Project,” wrapped up its first season last Tuesday. In its first year, the show picked up critical attention and found an audience. More importantly, the show found confidence and its voice, and it developed characters and relationships true to Kaling’s signature comedic style. While the majority of the main cast is white, the show cast Utkarsh Ambudkar to play Rishi, Mindy’s little brother, for a couple of episodes in the first season.
Rishi is a hilarious, complex, and multifaceted character, a strong role for an Indian American male. He can be considered “The Mindy Project’s” take on the emerging stereotype of an Indian American “faux-gangster” male. Although he is studying science at Stanford University, Rishi is more interested in moving to New York City and becoming a rapper. Interestingly enough, Rishi isn’t just a “typical American kid trying to make it in a creative field,” a trap that many writers who want to normalize the minority experience fall into. He’s actually cool. Instead of being another corny wannabe, Rishi is a great rapper who can command a room, be it a break room full of Mindy’s coworkers or a “Battle of the Rappers.”
“The Mindy Project” does a great job of making Rishi more than his ethnicity without ignoring it. Jokes about Indian Americans have punch lines that make mainstream society and its misunderstanding of minorities the butt of the joke, not the minority Indian Americans. For example, Rishi manages to convince Mindy’s building manager to let him into Mindy’s apartment because “a well-spoken Indian can get into anywhere he wants.” This is a play on the idea that Asian Americans are stereotypical “model minorities.”
Contrast Rishi with previous attempts to portray this new stereotype like Ambudkar’s role in “Pitch Perfect” or the Kevin G character in “Mean Girls” and it’s easy to see that Kaling’s Rishi represents the most responsible, complex, and accurate approach to depicting an Indian American male. Previous iterations of the stereotype reduced these characters to bit parts that functioned as cheap, tired, and one-dimensional comic relief. “Mean Girls’” Kevin G was sex crazy, yet inept and nerdy. “Pitch Perfect’s” Donald was better, but mostly just shows up to rap and play sidekick to Adam DeVine’s Bumper. One can argue that both “Pitch Perfect” and “Mean Girls” are just lighthearted fun, but their minority characters end up serving the journeys of their white, main character counterparts. Furthermore, “The Mindy Project” clearly demonstrates that it’s possible to be fair to minorities without sacrificing the laughs.
“The Mindy Project” highlights the need for giving minorities the opportunity to create art for a broader audience. When minorities are placed in leadership roles, more multi-faceted minorities of all types emerge on-screen as well. As a black woman,Shonda Rhimes successfully made the “Grey’s Anatomy” cast diverse without sacrificing quality. When minorities create media, they pay more attention to giving nuanced portrayals of people of color. Though the episode “Mindy’s Brother” was written by Chris McKenna, a white male, Mindy Kaling’s presence and influence is obvious. With an Indian American woman in charge and in the lead role, it becomes much more difficult to reduce her character and the role of her brother to stereotypes.This is especially important in the realm of television sitcoms and comedy. Tired and overplayed racial stereotype jokes have been a constant presence for too long with “Mean Girls” and “Pitch Perfect” only minor examples in a long lineage.
Sitcoms have a long history of portraying Indians, Indian Americans, and Asian Americans as background characters that are used to further the experience of the mostly white main characters. Anyone remember “Outsourced“? Kaling has stated that she does not think of her work in political terms and that talented writers can write for anyone. However, it’s hard to look at characters like Rishi and deny that the backgrounds of writers shape their scripts.Recently, it was announced that Xosha Roquemore, a black actress, will be joining the cast in the second season as a series regular. The news demonstrates a commitment by the show to have a truly diverse cast. While her role in the first season was limited, “The Mindy Project’s” track record is a reassurance to viewers that Roquemore’s Tamara will be further developed and treated with a certain level of respect.As this primetime television season wraps up and pilot season hits its stride, television networks have already started announcing series renewals and new series pickups. “The Mindy Project” has already been picked up for a second season.
For both current shows and possible new shows, it is absolutely imperative that television executives not only pay attention to ratings and the strength of ideas but also look to the people in charge. The new slate of freshmen series looks somewhat promising; ABC Family, for example, has green lit “The Fosters,” which is being produced by Jennifer Lopez and tells the story of a bi-racial lesbian couple. Minorities need visibility on screen, but they also need autonomy behind the camera. Only with more minorities in charge of writing rooms can minorities really achieve true visibility — flaws, strengths, and all.
Graffiti culture is an urban, male-dominant sphere. Most popular graffiti work has been associated with New York City, where from the 1970s, youth-dominant “hip-hop graffiti” emerged as a means of “ghetto expression” of urban culture (and urban decay). Graffiti continues to be a means of “doing art” with explicit knowledge of its legal precautions, a.k.a. it’s now allowed. That is probably what makes graffiti a popular form of expression– you are not supposed to spray paint public and private properties with images that denounces social norms, or things we are uncomfortable about.
It is not wonder that some of the best graffiti art work has been associated with revolutions (e.g. Berlin Wall).
With the uprisings that continue to take place in North Africa and the Middle East, the graffiti scene has been of particular interest to me because 1) they are quite beautiful and 2) a lof of them are being taken up by young women. I first observed the work online more from an artistic point of view; I have always been fascinated by female artists from the Arab region because inevitably, politics and their ownership of their bodies are always tried to it. Here, it is without saying that the graffiti work by Egypt’s young female artists are, is, and will be political.
Mostly, what draws my attention to Cairo and Alexandria is the fact that these are young women expressing their work in a male dominant sphere, challenging the notion of femininity and what it means to be a woman in society, at large.
Graffiti has always been a male dominant area. New York City’s subway stations carry some of the best work, most, if not all, completed by young men. It is without saying that even in America, men are the artists who get to carry the spray pain and dictate what goes on those abandoned walls. It is not a East-West, North-South thing.
Egypt, like many of its neighbors, is a region where female expression has been indirectly silenced. Of course, women have been a big part of the revolution. Their voices continue to matter and they are not being directly silenced (as they are in the Gulf regions, for example). In an area that has historically and repeatedly limited the development of female expression, combined with a very strong patriarchal culture embedded along all social lines, the work of anonymous female Egyptian artists in Cairo’s walls are invaluable.
It’s public. It’s contemporary. It’s words/things we still don’t like to throw around. It’s maybe even a way for Egyptian women to take agency of their bodies and their place in heated politics. It’s political.
Please check out Women on Wall, an artistic campaign and collaboration that took place in Luxor, Mansoura, Cairo and Alexandria to use graffiti art to express the female agency and empowerment. (womenonwall.com).
These sample art work from students at Rajuk Uttara Model School (RUMS) illustrate that a common theme to showcase in classroom art work are scenes of the Bangladeshi village. Huts, rice patties, hills, rivers, boats, and figures in traditonal clothing are some of the most common subjects present in art by students from all grade levels. They are usually drawn with crayons or water colors, and are usually very bright and vibrant on paper. The second most popular theme is the revolutionary war of 1971. Abstract art was not included in any of the samples I had a chance to see.
The village theme’s popularity in children’s art is interesting because almost all of the students at RUMS were born and raised in the city. Additionally, increasinly it can be observed that the parents of 1990s children were also raised in Dhaka. Thus one must wonder why villages become a repeated topic in art since the village scene is so different from that of Dhaka city.
One student told me that they are asked to draw “something beautiful” in their art class and that usually resonates the village scene. He explained that the village is more calm, quiet, and shows “natural beauty” that is present in most of Bangladesh but not in the city. Thus, being told to draw something beautiful meant drawing something outside the city.
Another student told me that often art class means drawing what the teacher tells you to, and what the teacher wants to see. These teachers will often assign the drawing of village scenes, and this initial teaching sticks to the children afterwards. In order to get the grade, you have to please the instructor, who has made his or her desire for such themes apparent. These teachers are also more likely to be more connected to the village than their students in Dhaka. This logic follows for art competitions as well where to win, drawing the most splendid scenaries does the trick.
Village scenes represents a certain nostalgia for what is missing in the city- cleaner air, people not in hurry, landscapes void of clumped together buildings, trees without the residue of pollution, and such. These scenes as represented by children of the city in school art classes showcase a divide of the urban and rural. It also works in an interesting way to connectgenerations widely different in history, lifestyle, and mobility.
Sidibie just featured in New York Time’s Nifty 50.
Blogger Stephen Heyman states that the ” holiday season provided Sidibe with a novel respite: a chance to get back to her old self.” Get it straight: Gabourey Sidibe is not Precious. This is difficult for some of Sidibe’s fans to grasp. “Most people understand the point of the film — it deals with abuse, and neglect, and self-esteem,” she said in a recent phone interview. “They just don’t get that I’m a real person. And I tell them, ‘This is not my story. That didn’t happen to me.’”
Sidibie was also recently veatured on both Vogue and Bazaar magazine. She told Bazaar:
I feel like a model. It justifies everyone in my life who told me I wouldn’t be anything until I lost weight. It justifies that little girl who cried because she didn’t think she could be in front of the camera. And it’s for other girls who feel like they can’t do this or that and feel like they’re not pretty and not worthy of having their photo taken.
The roles that she has been getting offered for have not been rosy ones, including playing a bully and playing in a dark comedy. And of course articles written about her since have focused on her “sefl-esteem”, weight, etc. And she has expressed that it upset her how critics have foused on her overweight body more so as a charateristic in the movie Precious. It would be interesting to see if the buzz around her would not ask about the obvious (thought I think you can’t get away with it- the weight factor definately makes this whole situation unique, especially in Hollywood). It is certainly healthy to see her embrace the fact, and claim that she does not feel the pressure to lose weight (would that mke her, giving in?).
The girl is cute; asked about ads:
“I’d probably advertise cherry soda. Cherry soda … um, muffins … something sexy … I know, cherry-muffin soda!”
In a culture of concealment, the significance of the visible is heightened. The fragments of the body that can be shown symbolically represent all that cannot be shown and cannot be said. This makes them eloquent and multivalent.
Friday …it is also a day on which the long Friday prayers and sermons, so important to Islamists, are held at the mosque. A day when morality and order are invoked and defined, when the mullahs of Iran often speak to crowds of thousands, who then chant their propaganda slogans. Rhythmically, ecstatically.
By Parastou Forouhar
Les Femmes du Maroc #16
By Lalla Essaydi
Work- Photographs, C-Print, Contemporary, Moroccan: 2006.
Art that is redefining, and challenging the idea of women in Islam today. Essaydi, a Moroccan who grew up in Saudi Arabia and later moved to Boston uses photographs to showcase the idea of Muslim women- a way of looking at their lives and identities.She takes a portrait and fuses Islamic, Arabic calligraphy in a unique style. As for composition, she uses structures common to orientalist paintings from the 19th Century.