Muse: Mariam Hamidaddin talks safe spaces, creative courage and cats

Mariam Hamidaddin is founder of “alternative art space” Humming Tree is also a freelance graphic designer and a keen adventurer. (Supplied)
Updated 22 May 2018

Muse: Mariam Hamidaddin talks safe spaces, creative courage and cats

The Jeddah-based founder of “alternative art space” Humming Tree is also a freelance graphic designer and a keen adventurer. This year, she became the first Saudi to join a Euro-Arabian North Pole expedition, spending 10 days on the shifting ice of the Arctic Ocean and skiing over 100km to the pole. Here, she talks safe spaces, creative courage and cats.

In 2011 in Cairo, I attended my first open-mic event. That’s where I discovered the power of safe spaces — the sense of belonging through shared values and community, and the beauty of authentic creative expression as a means to connect with one another and evolve together. 

I witness so much courage every day. I’m proud of creating a space that people say feels warm and makes them feel like they can be their true selves. Being able to provide resources for people and their ideas to grow is an honor. I love seeing people transform before my eyes and I feel like I’m constantly growing with every person I meet.

The biggest challenge, for me, was finding that sweet spot between having a sustainable business and serving the community.

We’ve got cats in the Humming Tree compound we feed regularly. One of them particularly feels like it’s her home and tries to sneak in the main door whenever possible. One day, in the middle of an event, she casually walked in and went upstairs. The crowd’s reactions were a combination of laughter, screams, and wanting to hold and pet her. Quite entertaining.

I don't spend too much time thinking about what people think of me. I believe people will always have something to say, but it's important to focus on the people who truly believe in us and connect with our message, and to listen to different opinions when said and meant constructively. 

Life hardly ever goes as planned. But living in regret is something I'm strongly against. We can obsess over the issue and narrow our lives to that moment, or we can embrace reality and see what wisdom can be learned and grow because of that.

Seeing more women in managerial positions has put a spotlight on the importance of emotional intelligence in the workplace, which — especially in my line of work — is an important skill to have; being able to balance being firm and structured yet encouraging and empathetic.

Creative group in the UAE gives female artists a chance to tell their story

Jana Ghalayini’s work at Art Dubai invited visitors to draw on their responses.
Updated 25 May 2019

Creative group in the UAE gives female artists a chance to tell their story

  • Female-led art collective wants society to rethink the way women of color are perceived
  • Banat Collective publishes artworks in print and online and hosts events to encourage debate

DUBAI: Sara bin Safwan founded the Banat Collective in 2016 to connect with other like-minded people, championing
their art through the group’s website,
The group aims to help society to rethink the way women of color are perceived by showcasing contemporary art, poetry and other writings. The collective publishes artistic works in print and online and hosts events aimed at spreading awareness and encouraging debate.
“A lot of the artists are young and emerging and never had the chance to be either exhibited or publicized, so we interview them to offer a critical, insightful look at their work,” said Safwan, 25.

Now an assistant curator at Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, Safwan graduated from London’s world-famous Central Saint Martins college in 2015 with a degree in culture, criticism and curation.
It was while studying in Britain that she developed a keen interest in post-colonial theory; the Banat Collective focuses on themes relating to both womanhood and intersectionality, which is an analytic framework to identify how interlocking systems of power impact those most marginalized in society.
“The mission is not only to connect artists but open up discussions about Arab womanhood in the region, because there’s not necessarily any other place to do so. We do that through art, poetry and other writings,” Safwan said.
“I use the word ‘womanhood’ to make it a more accessible term because if I use ‘feminism,’ it’s a very politically charged word that has almost been tainted by Western ideologies. And those Western ideologies don’t necessarily fit within our context as Middle Easterners.”
“In the Middle of it All” is the collective’s debut publication. Released in 2018, the book is a 31-artist collaboration of visual art, writing and poetry. Our book is a means to help us stand out — it’s thoughtfully curated and tackles a specific issue, which is ‘coming of age’,” she says.
“It’s a notion that’s taboo in the Arab world and either unheard of or misunderstood. It was a chance for female artists to tell their own story.
“Throughout the book, we go through many topics such as puberty, identity, sexual harassment and abuse, sisterhood, motherhood, beauty standards and all these other societal expectations.”
The collective held its first exhibition as part of March’s Art Dubai fair, showcasing a short film, “Ivory Stitches & Saviors” by member Sarah Alagroobi, which she describes as an “unflinching glimpse into identity, colonialism and whitewashing.”
Says Safwan: “It’s a tribute to all women of color who have been marginalized and, all too often, erased.”
Another work by Palestinian-Canadian artist Jana Ghalayini is comprised of a 26-meter-long piece of chiffon on which visitors can draw with chalk pastels in response to questions posed by the artist including “How does your environment affect your identity?”
Safwan adds: “The themes we explored were vulnerability and community — it was a way to introduce ourselves in person because previously we only had an online presence.”
Born and raised in the UAE to Honduran and Emirati parents, Safwan is now working with Alagroobi and Ghalayini to brainstorm ideas for future projects that include a podcast series on the notion of shame. The collective is self-funded and run by volunteers.
“I hope there will be more opportunities to showcase our work and collaborate with others. This year, we will be publishing more content,” Safwan said.