The Womanhood Issue

The Arab Women You Don’t See in the Media

Gulf artists Hafsa Al-Tamimi and Taghreed Albagshi's works provide a different portrayal of Arab women.

By Sharifah Alhinai

Omani artist Hafsa Al-Tamimi with her painting, Al-Bisht and the Bedouin Life (left). Image courtesy of Hafsa Al-Tamimi.

In Hafsa Al-Tamimi’s most recent painting, Al-Bisht and the Bedouin Life, a woman is depicted wearing a black cloak with golden embroidery above a primarily green outfit, as she confidently looks ahead. The cloak in question is called al-bisht, which is a traditional cloak that men across the Arab world have worn, in different design variations and colours, for centuries. Also known as an ‘aba and mishlah, the cloak has historically been associated with men of high positions, including tribal leaders, royal family members and Muslim clerics, who have worn it during official ceremonies and religious occasions throughout time. Given its background, the cloak has long represented leadership, power and strength. ‘The same characteristics al-bisht is tied to are possessed by Arab women,’ says the Omani artist behind the acrylic painting, when she explains the reason why she placed a traditionally masculine piece of clothing on a woman. ‘Though the stories and experiences vary, Arab women generally have a high stature, elegance and sense of diplomacy, and al-bisht symbolises this.’ 

Empowering the Saudi Woman by Saudi artist Tagreed Albagshi. Image courtesy of Tagreed Albagshi

The 40-year-old is part of a wave of female artists, including Moroccan artist Lalla Essaydi and Emirati artist Fatma Lootah, who challenge the stereotypes about Arab women that continue to permeate in media outside of the region in particular, through their art. Far from portraying Arab women as being backwards and in desperate need of saving, Al-Tamimi is keen on presenting an alternative, more truthful image about them. ‘My message has always been about women. Through my work, I represent women, their personalities, their strength, their stories…. I hope this message comes across to the world,’ states the artist, who has been practising art since the early 1990s and has showcased her work in Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, Italy and the United States. ‘I paint women because I am a woman. I feel what women feel, I relate to their stories. I don’t paint women for the sake of painting women or to create decorative pieces; I always try to portray women’s emotions and stories through the physical features of the women I paint and through the colours I use.’ 

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