BEIRUT: At 23, Aïsha Al-Ahmadi is what we call an “old soul”. Her career, from writing and literature to conceptual art, reflects the impressive maturity of the young Emirati artist. Her work features in the “Sense of Women” exhibition at the ME Hotel in Dubai. This exhibition-event, nestled in the undulating building designed by the Anglo-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid, is entirely dedicated to female art, as its title suggests. The works come from the MIA Art Collection, a foundation created by Chilean patron Alejandra Castro Rioseco.
Intrigued by Foucault’s response to Magritte’s calligrams ...
One cannot help but be challenged by this dark structure. Like so many signposts, words of red light are organized and drawn in dotted lines. They say “Art is subjective.” In another work, we can discern fragments of text: of / Truth / Our understanding… nothing which, end to end, really makes sense. For the young artist, “each word is unique, because the mind naturally links it to other words to form a sentence.” Aisha Al-Ahmadi’s artistic quest is rooted in literature. She says she aspires to a form of reconciliation and a feeling of belonging, between drawing, engraving, painting, photography and sculpture. She is intrigued by Foucault’s response to Magritte’s calligrams (in which the form recedes) and the signs become an integral part of her constructivist mode and end up linking spatiality and textuality.
“My love for art has always been linked to my love for writing. You could say that one led to the other. As a child, I wrote stories that I illustrated and sold to family members. It was my mother who saw this potential in me before I realized it myself, insisting on taking me to art classes. I have long remained attached to traditional mediums such as oil and acrylic paint, charcoal and printmaking. I only started experimenting with concept art during my undergraduate project and later, when I received the Sheikha Salama bint Hamdan scholarship for emerging artists,” Aïsha Al-Ahmadi told Arab News in French.
When asked about the influences that have irrigated her passion, the young woman hesitates: “It’s always difficult to answer such a question. I feel like I have to pick my favorites. Every artist I’ve met on my path has taught me something, directly or indirectly. I admire the works of Jenny Holzer, Artemisia Gentileschi and Taryn Simon. On the literary level, I feel strongly inspired by the writings of Amin Maalouf, especially his book In the Name of Identity. Books such as The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, and Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own have greatly influenced my thinking and subsequently my art practice.”
A master’s student in history of art and museum studies at the Sorbonne University in Abu Dhabi, Aïsha Al-Ahmadi also emphasizes that everything informs her practice, even if she is not necessarily aware of the influences that affect her. “I think my academic readings inspire me with potential ideas for future research and subsequently for artistic production,” she says.
One day, in Arabic
Because she leads us into the territory of literature, we ask Aïsha why these words, to which she does violence by isolating them from the sentences that give them meaning, are specifically English words: “My artistic practice is deeply linked to literature and research. Language and literature are an integral part of my identity, and in particular the Arabic language. However, as I grew up, I focused more on English, which is not my mother tongue and which I needed to improve. As an adult, however, I had the pleasure to rediscover Arabic and fall in love with it again. I intend to produce works in Arabic, especially playing with homonyms,” she says.
Female art in a world dominated by men
On the feeling that inspires her to be part of a female collective in the Sense of Women exhibition, Aïsha Al-Ahmadi underlines that she “really liked working with MIA art and especially getting to know the founder, Alejandra Castro.”
“It reminded me that women really stand with women,” she says, adding that “the support and love that went into the exhibition is very heart-warming. Being granted a representation as part of a women-only collective is important primarily because the art history canon has been largely dominated by men. It’s great to see an initiative shedding light on the achievements of women artists and I believe this contributes to the production of a more complete and inclusive art scene. Therefore, it is also a contribution in the history of art.”
Finding your identity in a globalized world
Finally, on the difficulties of her generation, as a young Emirati, and her artist’s response to these concerns, Aïsha comments: “Personally, I believe that, like many other young Emiratis, I try to reconcile living in a world that is becoming more and more global and emerging from a collective society with individual voices. I believe that this struggle to establish one’s sense of identity is universal. With such big changes underway, now associated with a global pandemic, a lot of fears could emerge from the uncertainty. Regarding my artistic response, I tend to produce work that channels my thoughts on topics such as identity, perception and post-colonialism and is grounded in research. That being said, it is difficult and probably unrealistic to speak on behalf of an entire generation.”
- Aïsha Al Ahmadi’s installation is part of the Sense of Women exhibition, ME Hotel, Dubai, from March 28 to April 20, 2021