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Hayaty Diaries: Meet the Two Women Spotlighting Female Arab Artists in London This Week

Artwork by Sara Benabdallah. Photo: Courtesy Hayaty Diaries

Now, more than ever, Arab creativity sits at the forefront of conversations in the art world, with more and more eyes opening up to the abundance of exciting thoughts, visuals and aesthetics emerging from the region. One name that’s on everyone’s radar of late is Hayaty Diaries, an art collective that has dedicated itself to spotlighting upcoming female artists from the Arab region.

The brainchild of two young women, Kinzy Diab and Christina Shoucair, Hayaty Diaries was founded with the aim of shedding light on the unique narratives of Arab female artists, and challenge prevailing perceptions about art culture and gender in the Arab world. “After graduating from university in 2022, I wanted to find a way of collaborating with Arab women across the creative industries and seek like-minded individuals to join forces with to create compelling content,” Diab tells Vogue Arabia. Sharing this vision with Christina, my childhood best friend, who has a professional background in art, led to the development and realization of Hayaty Diaries. While the concept has evolved to centre on the arts, its essence remains grounded in our fundamental desire to collaborate with and uplift Arab women across the creative industries.

Kinzy Diab and Christina Shoucair, founders of Hayaty Diaries. Photo: Courtesy Hayaty Diaries

“Christina and I have always been in each other’s lives. It was almost inevitable that we would eventually figure out a way to work together. For us, Hayaty Diaries is an extension of the dynamic between us: a unique space born out of conversations, ingenuity, and artistic expression that was integral to our journey growing up. It is a space we have created for ourselves and one that we are so excited to share with others.”

Taking their vision to the next level, the best friends are now all set to host Hayaty Diaries’ debut exhibit, ‘Through Their Eyes: Perspectives Unveiled’. Kickstarting in London tomorrow, the showcase will run on till December 4. Just hours before Kinzy Diab and Christina Shoucair open the doors of the exhibition to the world, they sit down with Vogue Arabia for a chat about their journey so far, their dreams for the future, and of course, the power of art.

Congratulations on Hayaty Diaries. What inspired this name?

Christina: The name ‘Hayaty Diaries’ was actually the first thing we developed, before we even had a clear picture of what our art collective would look like. In the beginning stages, we knew that whatever it was we were going to create, we wanted it to offer an intimate, truthful insight into the creative minds of the artists we’d eventually collaborate with. That’s what ‘hayaty’ signifies – it’s an Arabic term of endearment but also translates to ‘my life,’ mirroring how their art documents their lives much like a ‘diary’ would. Each artwork is an extension of their identity; art, for them, is the vehicle to convey their inner worlds, the lives and experiences of the people around them, the generations who came before them, and those who they imagine will come after them.

So to answer your question, who inspired the name ‘Hayaty Diaries’ – I would say it was first an idea we had because of its literal definition, and as we engaged more deeply with our artists and witnessed our collaborative work evolve, they themselves became the genuine inspirations behind the name ‘Hayaty Diaries.’ Their stories and ability to communicate them through their art solidified our belief that this name perfectly captures the essence of what we are trying to do.

Artwork by Huda Jamal. Photo: Courtesy Hayaty Diaries

Your efforts will soon result in what we’re sure will be an incredible exhibition. What do you hope to achieve via the exhibit?

Kinzy: Our exhibition, ‘Through Their Eyes: Perspective Unveiled,’ aims to spotlight emerging Arab women artists, diversify the London art market, and promote cultural understanding by exploring the intricate relationship between art, perception, and the experiences of the artists themselves. In the Western context, where comprehensive portrayals of Arab women are often lacking, these women’s experiences are frequently overlooked or misrepresented. By offering Arab women the opportunity to share their narratives first-hand at our exhibition, we hope to provide a more nuanced understanding of their diverse and multifaceted experiences. This approach will allow us to break free from their portrayal as incomplete fragments, offering instead a platform for the authentic articulation of their personal truths and uncensored selves. We also wish to spark meaningful conversations and create a lasting appreciation for the substantial contributions of Arab women within the art world and beyond it.

Tell us about the artists that will be spotlighted at Hayaty Diaries. How did you make your selection of artists? 

Christina: For our first exhibition, we have a brilliant selection of nine incredibly talented women artists from across the Arab world, including Lebanon, Egypt, Oman, Jordan, Palestine, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and the UAE. Kinzy and I, being quintessential women of our generation, turned to social media to discover most of these artists. We would get lost for hours scrolling through Instagram, sharing with each other every artist who sparked our attention and left us feeling inspired. We went in with the goal of finding fresh talent – artists with a new spin, unique styles, something that could really shake up London’s art scene and offer people an introduction to the creativity of young women artists in the region.

We were drawn to diversity, in every aspect to be honest – style, medium, artistic process, geographical and cultural backgrounds. You’ll find painters, photographers, artists exploring video installation, printing on fabric, and collage. Ultimately, our goal was to authentically portray this generation of Arab women artists by celebrating their unique approaches to art-making and breadth of identities. This is something that often gets overlooked in a Western context.

Aesthetically, what binds such a diverse group of artists together is that they’re all bold and vibrant. Each artist fearlessly embraces color, texture, and embodies a playful, youthful spirit while tackling some really deep questions about their identities.

Artwork by Foudeh. Photo: Courtesy Hayaty Diaries

Can you share with us the stories behind some of the artists we can expect to see at the exhibit, and what makes them special?

Kinzy: In our exhibition, ‘Through Their Eyes: Perspective Unveiled,’ artists explore whether art inherently carries meaning from its inception or remains an open canvas until interpreted by the viewer. Each artist engages in thoughtful dialogue around this central query, which yields diverse perspectives that make our exhibition unique.

Among the many exhibiting artists is Moroccan filmmaker and photographer Sara Benabdallah (b.1995). Sara distinguishes herself by blending art and fashion in the “Rhinestone Ngab” series, the main subject of which is her lovely grandmother. Her photographic series integrates iconic American cowboy boots with Moroccan traditional clothing, highlighting the transformative power of fashion in breaking cultural barriers.

Another artist featured in our exhibition is Saudi Arabian photographer Amira Nazer (b.1999). Amira explores materiality and conceptualism by uniquely printing her photographs on fabric. Her work, “Fidelity / إخْلاص,” delves into tradition and ritual in contemporary Arab society, offering viewers a unique perspective on Saudi youth culture amidst societal changes.

Farah Foudeh (b.1991), a Palestinian-Jordanian artist, focuses her lens on the captivating desert landscapes of Wadi Rum and Petra. Transitioning from a background in tourism, she intersects tourism and art by examining the desert as a space shaped by the camera and geopolitical structures. In this exploration, she uncovers the masculine qualities inherent to the desert. Collaborating with Hayaty Diaries has led Farah’s work in a new direction as she began delving into the feminine aspects of the desert, thus expanding her artistic oeuvre. Her photographic series “Crevice – شق” queries self-exploration and healing while addressing the collective commodification and politicization of women’s bodies.

Sara Benabdallah, Amira Nazer, and Farah Foudeh’s works only glimpse the special line-up of artistic talent featured in our exhibition. Joining them are the incredible Yasmina Hilal (Lebanese, b.1996), Mays Al Moosawi (Omani, b.1994), Nour Ammar (Egyptian, b.1998), Huda Jamal (Bahraini, b.2000), Kinda Adly (Egyptian, b.1989), and Aliyah Alawadhi (Emirati, b.1996). Each artist has created bespoke works for our show, revealing something different and profound about their art and themselves.

Artwork by Amira Nazer. Photo: Courtesy Hayaty Diaries

As co-founders, how do you bounce ideas off each other, and what has your work process been like?

Christina: As co-founders but first and foremost best friends, communication has always come easy to us and is a strength that has undoubtedly contributed to the success of our collaboration. Bouncing ideas back and forth comes naturally to our dynamic; it defines our relationship both at work and in our personal lives – Hayaty Diaries is a direct product of that.

The process usually begins with a lot of talking, whether we’re sitting down together or texting back and forth. We discuss, share our thoughts, and fuse them together to create a unified vision. Action takes shape when we step into our individual roles to transform these ideas into reality.  Kinzy is great at strategizing the logistical aspects of realizing our vision, while I focus on Hayaty Diaries’ creative direction, imagining how our ideas will take form visually and from a curatorial standpoint. Through our process, we are able to transform the ideas we come up with together to life, in whatever capacity that is for Hayaty Diaries.

What has been the biggest advantage of working together, and what has been the biggest challenge?

Kinzy: The most significant advantage and, simultaneously, the main challenge we face in working together stems from the fact that we are so close. This has allowed our experience creating Hayaty Diaries to flow with incredible ease and natural synergy. Through our dynamic, we hope to have cultivated an environment at Hayaty Diaries that nurtures artists, allowing them to create and express themselves freely. But, this same aspect presents its own set of challenges. Being friends first, we sometimes struggle to differentiate between our professional and personal lives. We’ve had to consciously prevent ourselves from distracting each other during work, which is something most best friends can relate to.

What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about: 1. Female artists, and 2. Arab artists?

Christina: One of the biggest misconceptions about women artists as they gain traction in the current market, is the assumption that their rising recognition is rooted in their gender, overshadowing their identities as individual artists.  It’s so important for people to see and value women artists based on their actual art, creativity, and contributions to the industry, rather than reducing them to their gender. This same trend often comes up when discussing Arab artists — it’s the classic cycle of an underrepresented group suddenly gaining interest in the Western market. While it’s important to recognize Arab artists as Arab and women artists as women, we should strive to go beyond these specific identities. I hope that we get to a point where the main focus lies in these artists’ identities as artists alone.

In the area of Arab women artists, a misconception is that their primary focus revolves around addressing specific stereotypical subjects in their art – concepts that as Arab women, we are constantly trying to dismantle. I think a lot of people may be surprised with some of the artwork we are exhibiting in our first exhibition because they break away from these limitations by tackling concepts that defy stereotypes – they challenge conventional gender roles, celebrate our bodies, and, contrary to common belief, celebrate our cultural backgrounds. Through Hayaty Diaries, our hope is to show that being an Arab woman doesn’t equate to limitation or disadvantage — such an assumption restricts creative expression and reflects an outdated Western perspective. We are equally bold, outspoken, and expressive as any other women. The greatest misconception lies in assuming otherwise.

What, according to you, is the most beautiful thing about Arab art?

Christina: Art is inherently a reflection of our experiences, thoughts, and feelings, offering a glimpse into how artists perceive the world, their relationships with their surroundings, and the social and political structures that shape their existence. In many ways, culture is the soul of art, and the beauty of Arab art is the very fact that it is created by Arab artists. We have such a rich and nuanced culture, shaped by so many factors unique to our experiences and histories as Arab people – whether living in our native countries or in the diaspora. There are so many dimensions to our identities which inevitably makes the art our artists produce so wonderfully complex and layered. Ultimately, the true beauty of Arab art is that it provides a window for people outside of our contexts to understand us better, while simultaneously enabling us to understand ourselves and one another better.

In terms of this new wave of emerging women artists from the region, I think their beauty lies in their fearlessness. Today, women artists are more daring than ever,  pushing boundaries, reshaping creative norms, and setting new standards. In many ways, I think we are witnessing an artistic liberation in the region, a movement where creativity flows without inhibition, and that’s beautiful in itself.

Lastly, what’s next? Tell us about any other projects you have in the pipeline. 

Kinzy: We are thrilled to share that Hayaty Diaries has some really exciting projects in the pipeline! You can expect more of our ‘HD Conversations,’ an engaging series on our Instagram page, where we delve into thought-provoking discussions with talented Arab women and men in the creative space. For our next London-based exhibition, we are looking to spotlight the incredible talent of North African women artists. We have some promising collaborations coming soon and cannot wait to share them.

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