Display of Islamic women’s art inaugurated on Rhodes

RHODES – Eyes peering through veils. Anger and hope. Confinement and freedom. This spectrum of emotions, contained in paintings by 51 female artists from the Islamic world, went on display yesterday in a new exhibition that seeks to challenge Western stereotypes about the lives and dreams of women from Morocco to Indonesia. «A year ago, we all saw – or rather didn’t see – the faces of the women of Afghanistan,» said Aliki Moschi-Gauguet, international president of the Femme-Art-Mediterranee network, which helped organize the show «Breaking the Veils: Women Artists from the Islamic World.» «It was an image that certainly reflected a reality,» she continued. «But it was only one side of reality and we wanted to show the other side.» The show, featuring more than 70 paintings, hopes to show women «with creativity, with the desire to move forward, to break out of the walls of exclusion, of prejudice, of the fear of violence,» said Moschi-Gauguet. The show is on display until October 30 on the Greek island of Rhodes, long considered a crossroads of civilizations. Over the centuries, the island has been part of Byzantium, then an outpost for Crusaders and later part of the Muslim Ottoman Empire. The Sept. 11 attacks also give the exhibit a deeper context, organizers said. «Over the past year, many people around the world have asked questions about the real nature of Islam. There is a critical need to get out the facts. We have an important message to send about our commitment to peace, tolerance and equality,» said Jordan’s Queen Rania, who inaugurated the exhibition. All the works in the exhibit come from the permanent collection of the Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts. The artists come from 21 predominantly Muslim countries and represent a range of religions: Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism. Some of the works were non-confrontational abstracts or collages. Others portrayed a clear message. «You can look at this painting and see the problem that women have with looking for freedom,» said Khalid Khreis, director general of the Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts, pointing to a work by a Saudi Arabian artist, Fahda Bint Saud, which depicts three women in burqas sitting in the «see no evil; speak no evil; hear no evil» pose. An Iraqi painter, Lisa Fattah, created an unsettling abstract titled «Aggression» that includes a human-like form which appears to be injured and bleeding. A collage by Naz Ikramullah of Pakistan includes images of former US President George Bush and skulls. Palestinian Laila Shawa’s silkscreen titled «The Deal» shows the Palestinian flag superimposed on a picture of dead people lying near a wall with dollar sign graffiti. She repeated the image in «The Sponsors» with American stars and stripes. There were no artists from Afghanistan, where the former Taliban rulers outlawed many forms of art, including showing human faces. Most Muslims believe it is only sacrilegious to depict images of the Prophet Mohammed and other religious figures. After Rhodes, the exhibit will travel to Athens. Future stops include: the United Nations; the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington; Barcelona and Madrid in Spain, and Paris. No dates have been set, but organizers said it will travel through 2004. «We have to do more things because I think there is a mystique and we don’t know each other,» Khreis said of the plans to bring the exhibit to the United States. «The aim of this exhibit is to create a dialogue, to give a real view of Islam,» he added. «We can do this with art because art doesn’t have any borders.»

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