My friend Sarah Daher – a Master’s student in Curating Contemporary Art – is having breakfast with me in Dubai, talking about the exhibition she has curated in the space we are sitting in. “It’s about the female body, about muses,” she says. I have offered a few of my poems for her exhibition booklet, poems in which I had attempted to breathe life into my own self as a woman. Poems in which I had tried to put myself back into my own hands.
Daher’s exhibition is titled, “This lark sips at every pond: women as artist and muse”. It is currently on show at maisan15, a cafe-gallery near Knowledge Park, Dubai, and features six female artists, including painters, photographers, poets, and musicians. The wall text considers how women have been reduced to nothing but “fountains of inspiration,” asking “What does the muse become when it is diffracted through the eye of a female artist? Where can inspiration dwell? And how can it be tapped?
Lacing through each of the works on display, Daher showcases the two portraits by Amina Yehia – an Egyptian artist based in Abu Dhabi – who has painted her sister and also herself. The works, gorgeous, realistic and technically impressive, are placed facing each other on opposite walls, a neat curatorial decision that allows them to become dialectical, and look at each other in their private lens world. Elsewhere are paintings and a trippy multimedia piece by Aliyah Al Awadhi, whose female-centring paintings I enjoy most, for their rich and joyful colors that still maintain tight narrative focus. One of these paintings is among the first pieces you encounter in the space, and seems to have the most direct connection to the exhibition’s concept: a woman lounges on her sofa while a man’s head is placed on the floor in front of her. The destructiveness of the muse in art history – where men have long painted women languishing in pain, or with no regard to their interiority – seems to be literally turned on its head.
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