Tunisian-Finnish artist’s ‘Bitter Oranges’ show is anything but

The exhibition will run until March 14. (Supplied)
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Updated 27 February 2020

Tunisian-Finnish artist’s ‘Bitter Oranges’ show is anything but

DUBAI: Tunisian-Finnish multimedia artist Dora Dalila Cheffi relocated to Tunisia a little over a year ago and has already unveiled her first solo exhibition, “Bitter Oranges,” which will run until March 14.

After obtaining her BA from Finland’s Aalto University of Art, School and Design in 2018, with a minor in sculpting and painting, Cheffi went on to showcase her works in group exhibitions at institutions and fairs, including Habitare and Galerie Kajaste Helsinki.

When asked how it felt to see her first solo exhibition open, Cheffi was characteristically positive: “It feels really nice,” she shared with Arab News.

A testament to the artist’s versatility, the month-long showcase is divided into four components that highlight different mediums: Paintings, ceramic pieces, a video documentary and a sound installation that she calls her most personal work.

The auditory installation takes the Finnish National Hymn and translates it to Tunisian Arabic. (Supplied)

The auditory installation, “Finlandia,” which is inspired by Cheffi’s mixed Tunisian and Finnish roots, is a thought-provoking exploration of the complexity of dual identity, a core theme of the exhibition.

The piece takes the Finnish National Hymn, originally composed by Jean Sibelius, and translates it to Tunisian Arabic. It’s sung in a traditional “Mawwal” style, which is a popular Arabic music genre that is known for its slow and sentimental nature and is characterized by prolonging syllables.

Also on show is a series of beautifully hand-made ceramics that the artist learnt how to make while spending a week with pottery-makers from the Tunisian town of Sejnane, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Also on show is a series of beautifully hand-made ceramics and brightly-colored paintings. (Supplied)

The artist spent afternoons grinding rock into powder and kneading fresh clay with her feet before heating the ceramics on an open hearth fired with dried cow dung and decorating them with seashells collected from the shores of the Mediterranean. The Amazigh-inspired pieces are accompanied with a 10-minute documentary that details the process.

Meanwhile, a selection of brightly-colored paintings celebrate the everyday, depicting “people and things” from the artist’s “day to day life.”

For Cheffi, art doesn’t have to be constrained to one medium, in the same way the artist has the ability to embrace her dichotomous identity. “I love the fact that I don’t have to commit to one specific technique. I can explore different materials and ways of creating,” she mused, before revealing “Balancing my very different Finnish and Tunisian cultures is something that I’ve struggled with. But in my artwork, they seamlessly mesh together.”


South Asian marriage websites under fire for color bias

Updated 12 July 2020

South Asian marriage websites under fire for color bias

DHAHRAN: An online backlash has forced the matrimonial website Shaadi.com to take down an ‘skin color’ filter which asked users to specify their skin color using descriptors such as fair, wheatish or dark. The filter on the popular site, which caters to the South Asian diaspora, was one of the parameters for matching prospective partners.

Meghan Nagpal, a Toronto-based graduate student, logged on to the website and was appalled to see the skin-color filter. “Why should I support such archaic view [in 2020]?” she told Arab News.

Nagpal cited further examples of implicit biases against skin color in the diaspora communities – women who are dark-skinned are never acknowledged as “beautiful” or how light-skinned South Asian women who are mistaken as Caucasian consider it a compliment.

“Such biases stem from a history of colonization and the mentality that ‘white is superior’,” she said.

When Nagpal emailed the website’s customer service team, she received the response that “this is what most parents require.” She shared her experience on a Facebook group, attracting the attention of Florida-based Roshni Patel and Dallas-based Hetal Lakhani. The former took to online activism by tweeting the company and the latter started an online petition.

Overnight, the petition garnered more 1,500 signatures and the site eventually removed the filter.

“Now is the time to re-evaluate what we consider beautiful. Colorism has significant consequences in our community, especially for women. People with darker skin experience greater prejudice, violence, bullying and social sanctions,” the petition reads. “The idea that fairer skin is ‘good’ and darker skin is ‘bad’ is completely irrational. Not only is it untrue, but it is an entirely socially constructed perception based in neo-colonialism and casteism, which has no place in the 21st century.”

Overnight, the petition garnered more 1,500 signatures and the site eventually removed the filter.

“When a user highlighted this, we were thankful and had the remnants removed immediately. We do not discriminate based on skin color and our member base is as diverse and pluralistic as the world,” a spokesperson said.

“If one company starts a movement like this, it can change minds and perceptions. This is a step in the right direction,” said Nagpal. Soon after, Shaadi.com’s competitor Jeevansathi.com also took down the skin filter from its website.

Colorism and bias in matrimony is only one issue; prejudices are deeply ingrained and widespread across society. Dr. Sarah Rasmi, a Dubai-based psychologist, highlights research and observations on how light skin is an advantage in society.

The website took down the skin filter following backlash.

“Dark skin tends to have lower socio-economic status and, in the US justice system, has been found to get harsher and more punitive sentences.

“These biases for fair as opposed to dark skin comes from colonial prejudices and the idea that historically, light skin has been associated with privilege, power and superiority,” she said.

However, in the wake of #BlackLivesMatter protests, change is underway.

Last month, Johnson & Johnson announced that it will be discontinuing its skin whitening creams in Asian and Middle Eastern markets, and earlier this month Hindustan Unilever Limited (Unilever’s Indian subsidiary) announced that it will remove the words ‘fair, white and light’ from its products and marketing. To promote an inclusive standard of beauty, it has also renamed its flagship Fair & Lovely product line to Glow & Lovely.

“Brands have to move away from these standards of beauty and be more inclusive so that people – regardless of their color, size, shape or gender – can find a role model that looks like them in the mass media,” said Dr. Rasmi.