DUBAI: The Kuwait-based artist discusses her conceptual work that forms part of a group show, curated by Nadine Khalil, in NIKA Project Space, Dubai, until Jan. 13, 2024.
I’m fully Palestinian. All my grandparents moved to Kuwait to do nation-building efforts there. I was born in 1987, the year of the First Intifada, and I remember the Second Intifada. I was 13 and I became a woman and a Palestinian at the same time. At that point, the injustice really started coming home to me. Over time, my grandparents entrusted me with more of their memories. My connections to my grandmothers have so much to do with my understanding of Palestine. I was very conscious of their trauma.
“Womb Amulets” started mostly through experimentation with material. I grew up watching my paternal grandmother cross-stitch and my stitching practice was what brought me back to school to do my MFA. I was curious about how I could stitch into clay and turn it into a kind of amorphous fabric, a stand-in for earth. It became a metaphor for stitching together selfhood, identity, and my place on this planet. I wanted to make an imperfect sphere and stitch it together. The first sphere I made did feel like the womb. It came out pink from the oven, although the clay itself is brown. It was a surprise.
Each ‘womb’ can fit in your palm. Your fist is supposed to be the size of your heart, so I saw a kind of poetry to that. Most of the works are about two fists together – so they are two sides of my heart. I made the first one to mourn the death of photographer Tarek Al-Ghoussein (in 2022), who was a relative. The ‘wombs’ serve as a boundary between life and death for me. My mentor walked into my studio and said, “This is special. Make more of it.” I went into an assembly-line mentality.
I wanted to make a thread that melded with the clay so the whole thing felt very organic. Once I started to serialize my artwork, I thought that I could bring attention to the number of prisoners, including children, who are illegally imprisoned. I put their names inside the amulets.
I wanted them to look vulnerable — it’s a little scary for your organs to be out on display. I put cushions underneath them so that there’s an element of care, and bound them together so that there are instances of universal solidarity, binding us all.