Over the past decade, she has risen to international stardom with her creative expressions. She is one of the most unique voices of today’s art scene who believes in using her art as a narrative tool. Poet, writer, activist, professor, and a highly sought after artist, Dr Shurooq Amin is one of the current rockstars of contemporary art in Kuwait.
In this candid interview Dr Amin touches upon her successes, the art scene in Kuwait, gives us an insight into the process behind her signature style and much more.
Tell us about your workspace and your creative process.
My studio is at home, where I raise my 4 children as a single mother. It has to be at home, close to my children, because I never know when I’m going to be working. There are months on end when I’m in the studio every day for 12 hours, so the kids need to be near me so I can take care of family issues.
As for the creative process, there isn’t one. I get inspired, or pissed off, or energized by, or triggered by something I see or read or feel. It can be as simple as an incident that takes place in front of me, to something as profound as a dream in the middle of the night of a complete image of an artwork. I then work on getting this image transferred to canvas. Invariably, while I’m working on that one piece, I start asking myself all sorts of maddening questions about life and society, which inevitably lead to the next series of artworks. And so on.
What are your themes?
Society, hence including men and women; hypocrisy; freedom of expression; censorship; religion; socio-politics; sex; gender-related issues, eg. homosexuality: all things taboo. If you’re afraid to discuss it, I will paint it and force you to at least think about it.
What inspires your art?
I basically “respond” to my society. I am galled by hypocritical people. That’s not to say that I’m criticizing people who lead double lives. I’m fully aware that in our conservative and very confused society, we are raised to hide the truth, to hide our real selves, and to go out there with a game-face on. That’s not what upsets me. That’s just survival, especially for women in our society. What upsets me are those people who lead those double lives and preach vehemently about issues they don’t actually believe in. Live and let live, I say.
Your work makes people reflect on socio-political issues. How do you explore serious issues through your photography collage?
My work aims to tackle taboo topics for the sake of opening a dialogue, enlightening minds and forcing the audience to think about the dormant issues in our society. Every society has problems, but it is only the society that admits to having problems and encourages dealing with and treating these issues that will succeed and progress. Our problem in the Arab society is that we are raised with the notion that you must sweep problems under the sofa, so to speak. The wife that is abused by her husband stays because he provides for her and she is brainwashed into believing that she has no other options. Her own mother may be against her, too.
What are you working on currently?
My new series Popcornographic, to be exhibited with Ayyam Gallery, Dubai.
How did the ‘Popcornographic’ series come together?
My 12-year-old daughter heard people talking about the shut down of my March show “It’s a Man’s World”, so she came up to me and asked: “Mama, what does popcornographic mean?” I asked her why, and she said she heard people say my show was shut down because it was “popcornographic.” Of course I immediately knew what she meant. So it stuck. I thought: “This is perfect!”. I decided to use the term against the authorities by using the version my daughter used. This way nobody can censor it. And the series will explore the actual impact of censorship, lack of freedom of expression and all things taboo. Since then, I’ve been working in the studio on the new series, which will eventually be shown with Ayyam Gallery, inshallah.
Your work entitled ‘A Tale of Two Muslims’ (from the ‘Popcornographic’ series) was up for sale at the JAMM’s annual art auction, tell us about it.
Religion should be primarily about spirituality, peace, love, tolerance and compassion. If these elements do not exist, then you are not really religious at all, no matter how many times you pray. I wanted to scream out my anger, but funnily enough the result was not an angry scream but rather a gentle nudge in the form of this artwork. I love this piece. If some clever art critic were to analyze it carefully, they would discover some gems in it, and they should contact me and let me know if they do. To the average eyes, it’s just a pretty image of two girls on a bed in a magical-realism setting. But the secrets I’ve painted into it are so much more intrinsic and subtle.
If I may borrow the title of your series, ‘It’s A Man’s World,’ what are some of the challenges that you have faced as a female artist? Have you ever felt creatively stifled?
I’ve never felt any particular challenges as a female artist. I feel challenges as a woman, period. I struggle every day to survive as a single mother of four…financially, emotionally and physically. The multitasking that I undertake on a daily basis is not something a man would be able to handle, with all due respect to the great men out there. I teach in the morning, then I go home, have a bite to eat and start working in the studio before the light goes. Then my kids come home from school and I deal with school issues, health issues, emotional issues, etc. In the evenings, I work on social media, especially my twitter account. The reason I like to tweet is because – as a writer and poet – I don’t have time right now to write, yet there’s so much in my head, so many ideas exploding, that I need to let them escape or else they will choke me, so I tweet. Then I deal with the kids again at bedtime (the 2 little ones) and then I spend more time at the computer writing, reading, jotting down ideas, making calls, organizing, etc. I respond to numerous requests for interviews, like this one, as well as personal live ones, and I answer fan mail on facebook, twitter, and email. I never ignore anyone, no matter how busy I am, unless they’re just attacking me, which has happened frequently, of course. On the weekend and holidays, I have more time to paint and work in the studio, and I fit in my social life (art-related meetings, short trips to art fairs/exhibitions, friends, family gatherings, etc). Throughout it all, I do Pilates almost every day, and am dealing with my sick adolescent son, who may have to be sent abroad for treatment. So…my life is quite full and stressful. And there are days when I can’t paint or touch a canvas due to the whirlpool my mind is in, but at night, when I meditate on an image, I wake up with a Eureka moment sent to me like a gift from the heavens, and it makes it all worthwhile, because at that moment, at night in my room in the dark, I know that I’m on the right path and that my role is to be that female artist in Arab society that will make changes. I have no doubt.
You often lament the lack of art schools in Kuwait. How important is art education in schools?
Vital. Without the proper art education, especially without an art university, art will always be looked down upon; it will always be the career choice that NO parent wants for their child. But with a decent art university, you open up the door for job opportunities, too, and thus expand the art field, creating jobs and careers for budding artists. How did the YBA (Young British Artists = Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst, etc) get their break? Charles Saatchi (one of the top supporters of art in the UK) walked into their graduation exhibition for their MFA (Master of Fine Arts Degree) and he bought everything! That was it! We – in Kuwait – don’t have opportunities to be discovered or to grow because we, as a society, don’t believe in the validity of art as a career choice. It’s sad.
How do you see the visual art scene evolving in the next five years in Kuwait?
It’s evolving due to the efforts of the artists themselves and some concerned supportive patrons.
For more information on the artist, please visit www.shurooqamin.com.
(Images courtesy the artist)