Khaleeji Art Museum

Maitha Hamdan on her Approach to Art and Women’s Issues

Inside the creative mind of this Emirati artist.

By Alanood Al Wahaibi

Emirati artist Maitha Hamdan. Image by Jacqueline V. Belizario for the Khaleeji Art Museum.

Maitha Hamdan is a multidisciplinary artist who expresses her creativity through various mediums such as performances, art installations and film, in which textiles have become a crucial aspect of her artistic practice. The Emirati’s work centres on her own experiences,  Emirati heritage and societal issues that women face. Hamdan’s work has been exhibited in the UAE and USA, and she is a graduate of the UAE’s Salama Emerging Artists Fellowship Program 2019, and a recipient of the Cultural Foundation Art Residency 2021.

In an interview with Hamdan, we discuss her experience expressing herself through different art mediums she uses, the themes she explores and the works she shows through Museum in the Sky Volume II.  Museum in the Sky, which is now available to watch through Emirates’ in-flight entertainment, Ice, is part of the Khaleeji Art Museum’s continuous efforts to showcase the art of the region in innovative ways, and build strong cultural bridges through art. In its latest volume, five Gulf artists –Jalal Luqman, Sumayyah Alsuwaidi, Maitha Hamdan, Ishaq Madan and Mohammed Al Attar– showcase three of their most memorable works to millions of passengers around the world through their own galleries in the sky. This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Khoosa Boosa by Maitha Hamdan is currently on show in Museum in the Sky Volume II. Video courtesy of Maitha Hamdan.

Given that you use different mediums of art, which is your favorite medium, and why?

MH: Performative video, being able to film myself or film a particular object while I do something with it. I feel like it’s my own theater, and I can do whatever I want with it. I can create the space and express my thoughts either with my body or with the sound I play in the video.

What do you see as the advantages of working with multiple mediums? How has this approach expanded your creative possibilities?

MH: The advantage of using different mediums is to be able to learn and understand which medium is the most powerful to deliver the message. With time, knowing how to deal with different mediums makes you more playful–you can juggle one medium with another and see how it will turn out. You never know the results until you use different mediums, and you never expect how powerful your message is until you try a medium you have never tried before.

Could you tell me about the works you are showing through the Museum in the Sky?

MH: I share three works in Museum in the Sky that I consider to be some of the pillars of my art career. Precautions was a breaking point. It breaks the silence on social boundaries that we as women in general face. It speaks to a lot of women regardless of their nationality or their age.

The other work I share, Khoosa Boosa, is a playful performative video through which I created an abstract of the song we used to sing in our childhood. I find it interesting that we [in the UAE] have the same culture, but it differs from one place to another. The Khoosa Boosa Song in Dubai, for example, is differs the one in Fujairah. The same thing goes with the one sung in Ajman; it is different from the one sung in Abu Dhabi. It portrays a message that no matter what we have as a heritage, we have our own experiences with it and our own interpretation of it, to the extent that we change history and change the words and lyrics of the song.

The third artwork I present, While You Are Away, was a turning point as well; as it was the start of my actual career in the art world. I wanted to re-represent how we use veils, and the way we cover up with the prayer scarves that my great grandmother used to give us as a form of her love. I wanted to document a few of her loving words on the scarves. It was a good way to document her, after she passed away, and to preserve a good memory.

Can you expand on how you explore social boundaries and womanhood in your artwork Precautions, which is one of most popular works?

MH: In my art work, Precautions, it was more of a personal experience that I, as a woman raised in a conservative Emirati society, went through. Displaying this kind of art in different parts of the world such as in Washington D.C., and other places that the work got exhibited in, breaks the stereotypes put for us women. The majority of us, as women, face similar issues internationally. We are either often misunderstood, or raised in a set of boundaries that we are required to act within, or otherwise we will be misunderstood or not accepted.

Precautions by Maitha Hamdan is currently on show in Museum in the Sky Volume II. Video courtesy of Maitha Hamdan.

In your opinion, in what way can art challenge or reinforce the social stereotypes about women?

MH: Art is a very powerful medium and tool through which we can deliver our thoughts or messages any time we want. However, I often feel the need to break the stereotypes about Emirati women who are artists. We are often locked or cornered into an image where we cannot discuss particular social issues that we are facing, or the boundaries that we face. However, with time, we are supported to express more thoughts and challenges that we face as modern Emirati women in this age.

Given that your work is shared with an international audience, and through your art, culture and heritage are portrayed, what do you hope viewers will take away from your art?

MH: My only hope when I showcase any art is to know the feedback of the viewer, regardless of their nationality or where it’s displayed. It’s important for me to know what kind of reaction they have, and if I delivered the message well. If I the work doesn’t evoke any feelings or does not speak to the audience, then it’s not for them. So, in summary, I think for me I just really hope for a reaction. If I get a reaction, in my opinion I am a successful artist.

You can find out more about Museum in the Sky Volume II and Hamdan here.

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