SHE WHO IS WATCHING

Wei-Ling Contemporary presents ‘SHE WHO IS WATCHING’, a group show that explores the position of both women and artists as observers. Six international women artists share stories and point of views that are personal to that of a woman while addressing significant issues that mark our times; gender, discrimination, migration, and ecology. These artists are Arahmaiani (Indonesia), CANAN (Turkey), Katia Kameli (Algeria and France), Marwa Arsanios (Lebanon), Morehshin Allahyari (Iran), Setareh Shahbazi (Iran and Germany).

Often, women around the world are confronted with traditional stereotypes and expectations of how they should be – based on their sex, racial and religious identities. Moreover, the history of patriarchal law and its established norms and values has perpetuated injustice towards women. With these in mind, ‘SHE WHO IS WATCHING’ aims to share the lived experiences of these artists collectively. Ranging from video works to installation, each artist suggests a more active, critical and inclusive way of looking at the issues that concern us all.

The coming together of these artists from Southeast Asia, North Africa, the Middle East and Europe aim to share their ideas on what a non-gender biased world might look like. Bringing forward the importance of balance within opinions, actions, rights and roles between genders. This exhibition is merely a small portion of the landscape of voices that ought to be amplified transnationally. The presence of this exhibition in Malaysia attempts to trigger critical expressions in response to local debates surrounding sex, racial and religious inclusivity that lack attention; a resist against intolerance.

‘SHE WHO IS WATCHING’ is featured at Wei-Ling Contemporary from 1st August – 30th August 2020.

Wei-Ling Contemporary is located at RT01, Sixth Floor, The Gardens Mall, 59200, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Admission hours are Tuesday – Saturday 11am-7pm.

Exhibition is open by appointment only. For appointments and further assistance, please contact +60322828323/+60173727616  or email: weilinggallery.amanda@gmail.com for appointment.

About the Artists

For over two decades, Arahmaiani has directed our attention towards modern gender awareness and pushed the idea of pluralism through a trans-disciplinary approach. Arahmaiani came from a syncretic culture in Java, in which she was raised with multiple beliefs and customs. Her deep interest in the spiritual is evident in her research in ancient pre-Islamic philosophy. Additionally, Arahmaiani extends this interest towards the philosophies behind feminine and masculine energies derived from Animism, Hinduism and Buddhism. The accumulation of such knowledge shapes her criticism against a society which tolerates a government stimulated from the patriarchal system. This is strongly reflected through her featured work, Do Not Prevent the Fertility of the Mind (1997-2020), which traces back the history of Soeharto’s dictatorship era in Indonesia. The installation highlights how women were victims of the controlled biological reproduction program that was carried out brutally under his governance. The work is symbolic of the limitations and lack of freedom imposed on our society due to political agendas and religious beliefs.

Symbolism also sits behind CANAN’s body of work as a timeless, non-binary, and common language. Her work with symbols captures one’s feelings and thoughts at a moment in time. It also examines our relationship with the past; defining the part of history that we wish to hold on to and how we choose to remember it. Women Bathing In Moonlight (2017) takes us back to the 1970s and unfolds the story of Madame Marta, an Armenian woman who lived on the island of Burgezada in Istanbul. As an immigrant, Madame Marta faced social pressure from being different from the rest, yet continued to carry on with her identity and tradition. Using the power of imagery, the artist aims to shift the collective perception of Marta as an alien figure. The silhouettes of mysterious female bodies bathing in the sea imbue a certain beauty into the narrative while emphasizing freedom for women.

The notion of “in-betweenness” is also one of the fundamental themes explored in this group show; where does one place herself in between two cultures? Katia Kameli’s work is closely linked to her experience as a woman of mixed identities: French and Algerian. Thus placing her practice in the question of territory. As an artist, she uses sound, video and photographic installation in an attempt to break the boundaries between art and cinema. Her short film Untitled (2011), filmed in Algiers during the Arab Spring, refers to the conditions of women in the Arab world. The film evokes the idea of a feminist revolution, but a silent one, where the placards bear no slogan. This idea of silent protest taps into the issue of women’s freedom of expression, which she has seen lacking in Arab society. Having multiple cultural identities, she allows herself to step back and establish a certain distance from each one. Thus, giving her enough space to ponder and define a point of view that is genuine.

Artist and cinematographer Marwa Arsanios’ recent projects revolve around the questions of ecology, feminism, social organization, nation-building, war and economic struggle. Her film Who is afraid of ideology? Part I and II (2017-2019) explore guerilla movements led by women in war-torn zones. Shot in the mountains of Kurdistan, the first film focuses on the Kurdish autonomous women’s movement and its structures of self-governance, as well as the creation and transmission of knowledge. This initiative views gender liberation and environmental consciousness as co-existing and equal struggles to that of resolving the conflicts of the war, feudalism, religious tensions and economic challenges. Having a core emphasis on ecology and feminism, it attempts the practice of life and nature; using traditional medicine and healing, consuming fish following its biological cycles of production, limiting the cut down of trees for survival, among others. The second film highlights two communities within the ongoing Syrian revolution: Jinwar (literally translates as the “place for women”), a village in Rojava, Northern Syria. It is formed by women and for the exclusive use of women. The second being Beqaa Valley, located near the Syrian border. It is home to a sanctuary-like community for refugees.

Through her recent work She Who Sees the Unknown (2016-2017), Morehsin takes us to the ancient mythical narratives that she was brought up with locally in Iran. The Islamic culture and teaching suggest the coexistence of three sentient creations of Allah: Jinn, humans and angels. Jinn is known as supernatural creatures made out of the smokeless fire, who have the capability of shifting shapes, and who, unlike angels, have the power of choice and will. Through this series, Morehshin re-figures female Jinn characters in various Middle Eastern tales and myths. The featured character, ‘Huma’, is known as a demon who brings common fever to the human body. This video puts Huma in a position where she possesses and brings heat to human beings and the rest of the planet, referring to the issue of global warming. Morehshin’s work sits between media art and activism as she addresses environmental concerns through contemporary techniques.

Lastly, the composition of 17 vivid-coloured prints Spectral Days (2012-2013) illustrates a story of exile, told from a personal point of view of an Iranian woman. Setareh Shahbazi delves into her history through a project that conjures up memories of her family’s move from Iran, the land she was once forced to leave. Female subjects appear in the images, highlighting women figures who are significant to her life. The work was realised through a long process of selecting from thousands of family photographs – followed by scanning, cropping, layering, and manipulating them into photomontages. With the interchange between positive and negative colours and the effects achieved from rough scanning, she plays with ideas surrounding the past and remembrance. The work reflects a process of retracing one’s own identities. A body of work that offers reconstructed narratives, simultaneously provided by the forgotten items that she comes across in her life.