Women make up 42% of the artists showing at the Menart Fair in Brussels. A simple fact, not so much a proclamation as a statement. This unexpected occurrence was not a specific objective but it spurred Joanna Chevalier and I to take a look at the status of women artists in the Middle East and North Africa.



Among the eighty-four artists showing their work at the stands of twenty-four galleries, over thirty are women. This is an ad hoc observation, amongst others that came to mind: geographical origin, date of creation, figurative or abstract… As we take note, we feel that this offer indicates a perception of demand, one that will help us progress, issue after issue, as we show off the best and share the realities behind this art scene.



Of course, many women artists made a splash on the social and art scenes from the 1950s to the 1970s. Parallel to similar movements in the West, modern women artists who were visionaries pushed the boundaries and changed the rules of the art scene. Courageous pioneers like Etel Adnan (Lebanon), Simone Fattal (Syria), Mona Hatoum (Palestine), Behjat Sadr (Iran), Inji Efflatoun (Egypt), Baya Mahieddine (Algeria) and Kamala (Sudan) revamped the playing field, uniting gestures, words and situation in a provocative manner. However, the women’s art scene consists of far more than these isolated icons. What is more, times have changed.



The contemporary women’s art scene, even richer, more diverse and wider-ranging, has, in its own way, appropriated these golden years, building on this rich legacy. All the societies concerned have evolved, sometimes to the point of regression…

The available media has multiplied (photo, video, digital, installations, performances, etc.) and social media protects these artists as much as it shows them off. Despite a still largely male-dominated, patriarchal and religious universe, all of which pose challenges to their affirmation, expression and recognition, women artists continue to create despite all the obstacles they face.



The place of woman artists in North Africa, the Near East, the Gulf, and in Iran, is neither simple to characterize, nor similar. There are major variations from one area to another, across both continents, and from one decade to the next. Longitude and local history, proximity to the East or West, degrees of political or religious radicalism, or tolerance, all are major variables to be considered.



While a male-dominated Islam remains a dominant backdrop, there are several subtle shades of grey and scenarios that coexist, so a nuanced perspective is required. To our knowledge, there are no “gendered” claims, or a specifically feminist art movement, or women describing their work as distinct from that of a male artist. It is the creation itself that is of prime interest, not the sex of the creator.

One artist or another may affirm their femininity or even their sexual feminine  preference, but not enough to term it a “movement.” Conversely, many artists strive to have their origins or their sex take a back seat to their work, their creation and inspiration, which they feel is the ultimate expression of who they are above all: artists. You will see ample proof of this in this year’s Menart Fair in Brussels.

Laure d’Hauteville, Founder & Fair director



Location: Boghossian Foundation, Villa Empain, Brussels
Duration: 3 February – 5 February





SELECTIONS is a platform for the arts, focusing on the Arab World.

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