Premiering at the AL M. Gallery in Al-Salhiya complex, It’s a Man’s World marks yet another career milestone for celebrated artist and national treasure, Shurooq Amin. Between finalizing her last few pieces of her latest series, bazaar sits down with this enlightened artist for a heartfelt exploration of It’s a Man’s World.
Shurooq, tell us about your latest collection.
When I did Society Girlz, people questioned the absence of the man. In essence, the man is conspicuous by his absence in these paintings. I think It’s a Man’s World was simply an organic gravitation towards dealing with the other side of society, the dominant one indeed, which are men. I started working naturally based on events that actually happened or experiences I’ve witnessed on a first hand basis. This series explores issues in our society that touch on the juxtaposition of what is okay and what is not for men.
Are these issues hidden?
Not quite, these are issues people prefer to keep hidden. Everybody knows they exist in the society; for instance adultery, multiple wives, the separate life between life at home and the Diwaniya.
What should we expect?
These will be conceptually shocking paintings, yet portrayed via beautiful images. The viewer will enjoy the color and movement in them, yet, it’s what you take out of it that is really crucial. Opening a dialogue is expected and desired, as there is no way that you can look at them and NOT be moved or urged to discuss them. People shouldn’t expect these paintings to judge, as there is no right or wrong—what is definitely wrong is the hypocrisy that supports the portrayed subjects.
There’s always an evident, if not prominent, story with every series you present. What’s the story you wish to convey in It’s a Man’s World?
The best way I can describe this story is by recounting a movie I recently saw, Anonymous, which showed Shakespeare’s literary impact on society; how he was regularly arrested, his plays were attacked—Shakespeare was socially controversial and unacceptable. It’s sad that we are in 2012, yet we are still living like that. Now we have the Internet, TV, passports to travel, we see what the world is like yet we impose shackles on people. In Saudi Arabia, for instance, the woman needs her dad’s permission to travel, and she can’t drive, when it’s acceptable for her to be in a car with a driver. These are Illogical rules that backfire, placed by society, or rather placed by these men. At the end, whether you are a man, or a woman, you are victimized. My series is not an attack on men whatsoever. Like Society Girlz, I’m attacking hypocrisy. In reality, I don’t care about what any given women chooses to do, I won’t judge her personally, yet my society will, due to the narrow-mindedness that is ingrained in our way of life and education. I’m trying to push the envelope a little bit, and I will keep pushing it and see what I can get away with. Hopefully, I survive this show without the extremists announcing that my blood is halal, and that I should be killed!
You are repeatedly portrayed as a liberator of women, how would you respond to that statement?
I don’t understand where that comes from!
Would you say it’s a two dimensional interpretation of your work?
Yes, even though I choose to paint women, that doesn’t mean that my work doesn’t go beyond that. The same applies to It’s a Man’s World, I’m not calling for the emancipation of women, I’m calling for the emancipation of the mind and society, men and women alike. If the men, who run our society, were emancipated from these backward shackles, the women would be fine. We may wish to think that women run the show, yet we have to face the facts, a lot of the big decisions that affect us are made by men. Simply, consider why women were not reelected this year. A lot of them did not fight enough for certain causes or were not taken seriously in this society, and based on that, they lost their credibility, and the rights of women in Kuwait were ignored rather than fought for. People expected change, yet we regressed. Instead, people chose more pious government officials.
So there is no hope then?
People think this is the beginning of the end, yet I have hope for Kuwait. I think the next parliament will be different; people came out to speak for change. I see that power corrupts no matter how religious a person can be, even the Vatican, run by religious figures, is corrupt. When the people realize that, the people will step out once again and demand reformers, logical breeders of change.
Did you learn anything unexpected while working on It’s a Man’s world?
On a personal, and spiritual, level, yes. Sometimes, I feel like I’m possessed when I’m working. With this series, I’ve been working non-stop, I forget to eat, drink, and I even don’t change my clothes sometimes! I really have spoiled all of my clothes, and it’s getting ridiculous! I don’t prepare to paint anymore; I am breathing and living this series. There are times my hands are working so fast; my mind can’t catch up with what’s happening with my hands. I dreamt of these paintings, visualized them in my dreams, and truly obsessed with the destiny of each painting.
Where does that livid obsession come from?
I’m evolving as an artist, life has changed me and I am learning so much about myself. I stood on my own two feet, financially capable of raising my kids on my own, and I technically run a household based on my art, and my teaching career. I went through a year when I was devastated financially more than I was emotionally after my divorce, the practical aspects of life were so challenging. Now, I have a dream for myself. Seeing me go through this process is a phenomenal feeling, like an out of body experience, surreal in its entirety. The journey, rather than finishing each collection, keeps me going. This series is the absolute zenith for me; artistically, technically, conceptually, I cannot believe how evolved I’ve become. I’m doing things I never thought I would be doing. The subject matter is much bigger, and I really want to make a difference, and I feel that this show will mark a new era in my personal development as an artist and as well by bridging the gap of understanding society from two different views, women and men alike.
What was technically challenging about this collection?
I am doing different things, for example, I’m printing my canvases straight on wood, heavy blocks of wood, rather than stretching the canvas like with Society Girlz. The colors are hugely different, and that just happened naturally. In Society Girlz, they are muted, heavy, dark, yet with the new series, they are bold, vibrant, and vivid, perhaps more beautiful to take away from the sting of the reality of the subject matter. The subject matter is far more controversial, considering alcoholism, sexuality, gender identity, religion, and politics, to a certain extent. I am different, as an artist, my process is different and yet it is all coming so easily. My work is physically challenging, I have chronic back pain now from the constant standing, bending, and using two hands to paint when creating these pieces. I’m going through physical changes in my body that could affect me when I’m older, but I don’t really care because I love it; I’m on an adrenaline rush every day.
How do you decide how each painting looks like?
I have no clue; I guess it’s absolutely natural! I didn’t have an outline, or organized structure, or common technique. Besides mounting each picture on wood, every painting required a different technique based on its story, yet conceptually, they are unified. When I’m working on my paintings, I normally mount two or three next to each other, and then contemplate what to do next. I’m at my desk, I look at them, with my music on, and then I know exactly what each one requires. Each one calls for you to do something different, in terms of color, mood, even my music changes based on what I’m working on. The painting dictates to me what to do with it. Methodology doesn’t apply, I tried that with one piece and that didn’t work. After trying the colors turquoise and red, it was a total fail. I had to literally get rid of everything on the surface; I even decided I would exclude it from the series. Two weeks later, the same painting came to me in a dream; it had to be deconstructed, and that’s how it should be, it was destroyed, to be reconstructed into something better, and that painting was ‘He loves me, he loves me not’.
Was it scarier to showcase Society Girlz, or is the upcoming It’s a Man’s World scarier?
This new series is much scarier, I’ve never cared for peoples’ reactions, critics’ reviews, or sales. This time, I’m very fearful, there is a sense of trepidation and apprehension. I worry that the owner gets in trouble, or that the gallery could decide not to show one or two pieces from my series. If that ever would happen, I would cancel the show, as I need to showcase the complete series. People know me well enough to know that my work isn’t for the faint hearted in Kuwait. Not allowing me to show my work is better than asking me to censor my work. Many people asked me why I chose the AL M. Gallery, and the gallery owner promised he wouldn’t censor any of my works. In previous shows, my work has been censored; I’m not having that any more. This is my work, take it or leave it. To be fair to the gallery, they are very supportive, they love my work, and the curator is very progressive as she sought me out. She believes I’m the foremost relevant artist in Kuwait today, and I want to give her back that respect with showing my complete series. When she asked me to show with her, I could have never refused.
Finally, do you feel like you are going to be attacked, or hailed by men in Kuwait?
I think I’m going to be attacked by everyone! There are women who would attack me, as well. You see, it’s a natural reaction to attack because people resist change and facing facts. Those who relate will feel under the spot light, and I’m pretty sure they won’t be happy about it. Those who can’t relate will be offended. Either way, it will move people and touch them in some way. Beyond the initial shock of ‘Oh my god!’ ‘3aib,’ and ‘7aram,’ they will realize that it is actually quite amazing that there is a Kuwaiti artist who is exploring society in a way that nobody ever dared. I’ve made peace with that, and I know men, or any persons, who have a vision for progress will be one of those who ‘hail’ me, as you said.
Shurooq Amin’s, It’s a Man’s World, will be showing at the Al M. Gallery, located in Salhiya Complex, Mezzanine 2, starting from the 5th of March, 2012. For more information about the artist, please visit www.shurooqamin.com.