Posted: February 16th, 2022

Contemporary Middle Eastern Female Artists



Contemporary Middle Eastern Female Artists















Contemporary Middle Eastern Female Artists[1] 

Rather than backing down from a historically patriarchal industry, Middle Eastern female artists have taken a significant stance against the asymmetrical hierarchy in representation in texts, images, and discourses about art. Contemporary approaches to tiny traditions offer new ways of thinking in a chaotic and unfair world. The imperialist white male subject’s dominance over the female body is quite similar to the politics of miniature; thus, women find it helpful to interact with traditional miniature aesthetics. By critically articulating circumstances and producing personal yet engaging art, these female artists have used this adversity as a challenge to be overcome, which has led to a rediscovery of the contributions of women as artists to the discipline itself. Now, several museums and galleries from different parts of the world display the artworks of these Middle Eastern Female Artists. 

The region, marked by constant political and religious contestation, war, and oppression, inspires artists to use their creativity and address them using art. And since it is greatly dominated by male supremacy, one should understand society’s increasing female representation in the art scene. Does their artwork give the world a view of the role of women in the region? Do they say anything about the differences? [2] Can Middle Eastern women be at the forefront of the art business in the world? Does artwork empower them and reduce the cases of women’s oppression and marginalization in the region? The world has dramatically recognized the talent of Middle Eastern female artists, which has led to an increased influence of their art in global museums. The artworks of Middle Eastern women help understand the role played by women in society.

Known for her work in film, video, and photography, Artist Shirin uses creativity to explore the cultural issues that shape her native Iran. Neshat’s artwork series, ‘Women of Allah,’ contain images showing the representation of the Western culture in the Muslim community. Female artists try to incorporate information that covers the changing cultural landscape of the Middle East. Due to the introduction of western culture in the region, women’s identity has become a complex matter. Shirin Neshat’s artwork shows that women must follow specific values that help identify them as part of the community. Shirin Neshat’s artwork features contemporary issues that women face with the changing norms. Each of the images contains four symbols that address the changes in the region since the Iranian Islamic Revolution began in 1979. These symbols are a text written on a female’s face, a gun, a veil, and a gaze. Neshat uses her images to show her conflicting emotions.[1] The veil symbolized repression as well as freedom. This shows how the violence in the region had created a dilemma in the area.

Much like Neshat’s artwork, Boushra Almutawakel’s artwork uses different mediums like installations, videos, and performances to reach the intended audience. Boushra Almutawakel focuses on Western perceptions of wearing the hijab in the “Mother, Daughter, Doll.”[2] Through the harrowing experiences that most of these artists go through, Boushra provides a better image of the region they grew up in that might be essential in decision making. The artworks help individuals understand the culture of various communities in the Middle East and scrap off the stereotypes that lead to wrong perceptions about the lifestyles of Arab women and the role they play in society. The interest in female Middle Eastern artwork had greatly enhanced since the late 1990s when the international community started getting involved in the issues facing states in the region.[3] 

In contrast to Boushra Almutawakel’s artwork, Lalla Essaydi’s ‘Bullets Revisited #3’ of 2021 provides an image protesting the restrictions on women during the Arab Spring. She uses bullets as a symbol of violence. Women experienced varying issues resulting from the violence that came due to the Arab Spring.[4] The requirement of women to have veils in public led to a cultural change in Iran. This measure was an affirmation of the religious identity of the region. It was empowerment to Muslim women but seen as a violation to human eyes by the Western countries. Artists provide images that define society through various lenses. [3] It also demonstrated the critical role that women may play in combating resistance to change, the lack of substantial political reform, and authoritarian regimes riddled with nepotism, corruption, and bribery. Political and cultural elites did not anticipate women’s participation in public revolutions. 

Just as Boushra Almutawakel’s artwork, Palestinian Emily Jacir created Pietrapertosa 2019-20, a stone sculpture in 2019 included in the Gardentopia project intended to create awareness on urban regeneration. Jacir’s works explore vital issues facing or facing her community, including resistance, movement, colonialism, transformation, exchange, and translation. Pietrapertosa is inspired by real-life experiences of Jacir, interactions with the community, and research on the nature of issues in society. Her works are well researched to provide a clear view of the message she tries to portray. Pietrapertosa is an image showing what people want artists to show to the world. It analyzes movement in the public space and the effects on the social and physical experience of the Mediterranean time and space. It contains a message written in Arabic and Italian, which translates to “You have come among us, and your life is safe.”[5] This helps people reflect on themes like integration and acceptance, which significantly influence the current political and social landscape of the Mediterranean region and other places across the world. 

Similarly, Mona Hatoum, a British Palestinian, is best known for presenting “Performance Still 1985,” part of a Roadworks exhibition. The ‘Performance Still’ photograph was created in 1995 after Hatoum captured an image of her one-hour performance in Brixton London. Her presentation uses people walking on the street as the crowd scene, which helps the audience understand her actions. She focused on some of the issues that faced different communities, like the Anglo-Caribbean community, which experienced crime, poor housing, and unemployment. Her works focus on creating awareness of societal problems and solidarity with the district. Brixton had been an area characterized by economic and social conflicts that led to riots breaking out after search procedures by the police brought distress to individuals in 1981.[6] Like other Middle Eastern artists, Hatoum emphasizes the essential issues facing society. [4] He welcomes the ethereal Arab woman/terrorist into the museum with this installation. Through her work, we are brought into close contact with our human frailty and vulnerability. She questions the dualistic division between self and other by bringing foreignness and abjection to the forefront of our perception. Mona Hatoum’s work represents a jolt to their comfortable routines and a challenge to their preconceived notions of what art should be for many gallery guests. The interaction with the art confronts the viewer because it provides an inescapable bodily sensation for them to go through with.


Tanya Habjouqa, like Mona Hatoum, covers topics of human rights, gender, and socioeconomic factors in the Middle East. Her exhibition, ‘Occupied Pleasures’ of 2014, provides a series of photos that help define issues in the world according to Habjouga’s perspective.[7] She approaches her subjects carefully to ensure she gets images that clearly describe her perceptions and understanding of life. She also emphasizes the nature of the social and political system witnessed in the Middle East. The Palestinian photographer gained more influence when she released ‘Occupied Pleasures .’Many Palestinians live in active regions like East Jerusalem and Gaza, where political instability has dramatically affected the activities of individuals daily. This has made the region live under a great fear of violence breaking out at any time. Occupied Pleasures help describe the situation and show how it affects the typical lifestyles of individuals. 

Equally crucial as Tanya Habjouqa’s artwork, Lebanese American artist Rania Matar focuses on human stories facing individuals in the Middle East and the world. After the Covid 19 outbreak struck the world and stalled a lot of practices, Matar tries to develop a new window for the world with the series ‘Either Side of the Window: Portraits During Covid-19’.[8] The series has photos of about 100 people in Massachusetts showing their lifestyles. The collection tries to bring differing images of the lives that people found themselves in. Like other artists, Matar creates groups that provide an in-depth understanding of her presentations. Viewing society through various lenses presented by female Middle Eastern artists gives a sense of how they view the world compared to the past. 


 To summarize, female artists from the Middle East contribute to our understanding of the role of women in society. This has been critical in assisting the world in comprehending society’s conduct. More female artists are attempting to demonstrate to the community that stereotypes have had a significant impact on how people regard women in the Middle East. A recurring theme in the Middle Eastern region has been the necessity to preserve traditional practices such as women wearing veils in public. The majority of female artists focus on the issues raised by various stereotypes. For instance, Neshat uses texts in her images to show other women’s art through their poetry, which reveals how contradictory some themes have been in the past. People have many misconceptions about the Middle Eastern region that make women look powerless in society. However, contemporary arts try to show how they play a very significant role in the region’s stability.











Alwazzan, Maryam AMA. “Reframing Borders: A Study of the Veil, Writing, and Representation of the Female Body in the Photo-Based Artwork of Mona Hatoum, Shirin Neshat, and Lalla Essaydi.” PhD diss., University of Oregon, 2018.

Gresh, Kristen, and Michket Krifa. She who tells a story: women photographers from Iran and the Arab world. MFA publications, Museum Of Fine Arts, 2013.

Kelly, Jennifer Lynn. “Subjection and Performance: Tourism, Witnessing, and Acts of Refusal in Palestine.” Feminist Formations 32, no. 2 (2020): 79-110.

Mohsen, Reham Hassan, and Hajar Saeed Ezzeddine. “The image of Middle East woman between Western Orientalism and Middle Eastern Art.” International Design Journal 7, no. 2 (2017): 19-24.

Muscia, Cinzia. “Women Artists of Allah: The Makers and the Leading Actors of Middle Eastern Contemporary Art.”

Salah, Omnia. “Middle Eastern women, media artists and ‘self-body image’.” Technoetic Arts 15, no. 1 (2017): 61-74. 

Walker, Hannah. “Panoramas and Personas: Setting and Subject in Rania Matar’s Photographic Works.” (2021).

Wong-Mersereau, Amelia. “Emily Jacir.” Esse 96 (2019): 66-69.





[1] Salah, Omnia. “Middle Eastern women, media artists and ‘self-body image.'” Technoetic Arts 15, no. 1 (2017): 61-74.

[2] Muscia, Cinzia. “Women Artists of Allah: The Makers and the Leading Actors of Middle Eastern Contemporary Art.”

[3] Mohsen, Reham Hassan, and Hajar Saeed Ezzeddine. “The image of Middle East woman between Western Orientalism and Middle Eastern Art.” International Design Journal 7, no. 2 (2017): 19-24.

[4] Gresh, Kristen, and Michket Krifa. She tells a story: women photographers from Iran and the Arab world. MFA publications, Museum Of Fine Arts, 2013.


[5] Wong-Mersereau, Amelia. “Emily Jacir.” Esse 96 (2019): 66-69.

[6] Alwazzan, Maryam AMA. “Reframing Borders: A Study of the Veil, Writing, and Representation of the Female Body in the Photo-Based Artwork of Mona Hatoum, Shirin Neshat, and Lalla Essaydi.” Ph.D. diss., University of Oregon, 2018.

[7] Kelly, Jennifer Lynn. “Subjection and Performance: Tourism, Witnessing, and Acts of Refusal in Palestine.” Feminist Formations 32, no. 2 (2020): 79-110.

[8] Walker, Hannah. “Panoramas and Personas: Setting and Subject in Rania Matar’s Photographic Works.” (2021).

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