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Women & Street Art in the Middle East

November 2, 2013
4 min read
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Women & Street Art In The Middle East (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Afghanistan) An Article By Shahad Bishara. 1

“Women & Street Art in the Middle East” is an article by StreetArtNews contributing writer Shahad Bishara, Shahad is currently based in the Middle East and regularly reports on Street Art in the region.

Despite the street art industry being particularly male dominated across the world, there are also many great women artists in the field such as Faith47, Liliwenn and Bastardilla. Some women graffiti artists face challenges working in a male dominated scene even in the Western world, however female artists in the Middle East face even bigger challenges due to the conservative nature of their societies. One woman creating quite a stir in the scene is Shamsia Hassani, an Afghan graffiti artist and teacher at the Faculty of Fine Arts, Kabul University. Her works often depicts women in burqas, usually painted blue and feminine-like, or fish. The 24- year-old artist is considered to be her country’s first graffiti artist, which is a significant achievement considering its strict views on gender roles. Shamsia has also collaborated with L.A. street artist El Mac on a mural entitled Birds of No Nation for the 7th Asia Pacific Triennial in Australia.
Women & Street Art In The Middle East (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Afghanistan) An Article By Shahad Bishara. 2

Another young Afghan graffiti artist also making waves is Malina Suliman. Her signature subject is a blue burqa-clad skeleton, a metaphor for the oppression of Afghani women. The 23-year-old artist has received threats and attacks from the Taliban because of her work. She currently resides in Mumbai, India.

It’s interesting to note that both Afghan artists chose to depict the same subjects in the similar color palettes, but expressed them in different ways. Shamshia’s burqa women are represented in a more positive light, while Malina opted for a darker portrayal of women in Afghan society. Saudia Arabia is another unlikely country to see women expressing their creativity on the streets. In comes Sarah Al Abdali, a 22-year-old woman branded as one of Saudi’s first street artists. Sarah first came into the scene with her stencils, which were placed around Jeddah commenting on the urbanization of the holy city of Mecca.

Since the Arab spring began in Egypt a few years ago, revolution graffiti has taken the country by storm. Women have also begun to partake in this creative movement, many through the group Women on Walls (WOW). The project, founded by Swedish author Mia Grondahl and women’s activist Angie Balata, aims to empower Egyptian women through graffiti. So far the group includes around 12 women who have been given a voice to express positive interpretations of women in their communities. The development of the graffiti scene in the Middle East to include women, in even the most conservative countries, is a positive indication of its change. It will be interesting to see the new influences females will bring to the streets in the coming years. Check back soon for more extensive reviews on the street art scene in the Middle East. 

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