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Manar and Sharifah Alhinai. Illustrations: Hatty Pedder.
In times of difficulty, we seek solace in our family members, our spouses, and our friends. But we also seek solace in the arts. We look for verses of poetry that will comfort and uplift us, we search for ourselves and for an acknowledgment of the commonality of our human experiences in paintings and novels, and we temporarily escape our worlds through films. But never before has our essential need for the arts- in their diverse forms- been as highlighted and as widely acknowledged than in the crisis that we are currently living through. It seems like every day an article is published that highlights how the arts can enhance our well-being, especially during these trying times, not only through its consumption but also its production. This has been coupled with a call for us to better appreciate artists, who act as life rafts in open oceans, and rightly so.
The social distancing and quarantine that has characterized the wave of this lethal virus has also resulted in a parallel wave of human introspection. In this state of isolation and confinement, many of us have been forced to look within ourselves and to face thoughts, fears and anxieties that we have refused to or have shied away from confronting before. Around the world, a collection of us has thus (increasingly) resorted to expressing these feelings and thoughts through creative outlets such as writing, painting, and photography.
At Sekka, we have experienced a rise in the number of contributing writers since the onset of the crisis in the Gulf and larger Arab world, and a continuous increase in the number of participants in the online art exhibitions that we hold through our digital Khaleeji Art Museum. Though we have been avid supporters of regional art and artists since our inception, we established the Museum last April as an additional, special space for regional artists to share their work with the world and to encourage them to create, and for our regional art to be accessible and for our artists to be familiar to all. Our first exhibition, Khaleejis in the time of Corona, revolved around the people of the Gulf’s experiences with and adaptations to the novel coronavirus crisis, and we have continued hosting exhibitions since then with a variety of timely themes, including Ramadan in Quarantine and Art for Change.
This issue of Sekka constitutes a similar effort on our end to highlight art, its makers and its champions in the Arab world. The entirety of the issue was produced by an all-women team. Female artists around the world have been underrepresented, and many advocates have campaigned to increase the representation of works by female artists in galleries and museums. As part of our efforts to increase female representation, featured on our cover is art by Menhat Helmy, the pioneering Egyptian artist whose work and legacy we highlight through our cover story interview with her grandson Karim Zaidan. The artwork we chose to feature — To the Point— was one of my Menhat’s final works, created at a time when she had pivoted entirely to pure abstraction. She was fascinated with space exploration and depicted it in various ways that also highlighted how inspired she was by the geometric patterns in Islamic art.
Gracing the pages of our issue are, amongst others, Sheikha Hoor bint Sultan Al Qasimi and H.E. Zaki Nusseibeh. The President and Director of the Sharjah Art Foundation and the President of Sharjah’s Africa Institute Sheikha Hoor bint Sultan Al Qasimi, reveals her experience with arts programming during the crisis and shares her entry into the art world story with us. The UAE’s Minister of State H.E. Zaki Nusseibeh, who is also an avid art collector and lover, recounts how art has made him a better person and discusses efforts to support the cultural industry during the COVID-19 crisis in the UAE.
In addition to meeting an array of other individuals that have left their mark in the world of art in the Arab region, we also introduce you to and highlight spaces that are worthy of your attention, including the Palestinian Museum, Dubai’s Jameel Arts Centre and Dhahran’s Ithra.
We hope you find solace and inspiration in the stories we have curated for you, And sincerely wish that you continue to remain especially safe and healthy during these times.
Manar and Sharifah Alhinai