ArteEast is pleased to present an interview with artist Alymamah Rashed as part of our Artist Spotlight.
Alymamah Rashed is a Kuwaiti visual artist who investigates the discourse of her own body as a Muslima Cyborg, fluctuating between the east and the west. The Muslima Cyborg rests in a liminal spectacle that compartmentalizes the collective tangibility of the mind, the body, and the ornament.
Alymamah received her MFA in Fine Arts at Parsons School of Design in 2019 and her BFA in Fine Arts at The School of Visual Arts in 2016. She participated in various exhibitions in New York City, including the Czech Center, Parsol Projects, and The New School, and a virtual solo exhibition in Gallery Bawa. She is a recipient of the Master’s Scholarship and the Merit Scholarship program by the Kuwait Ministry of Higher Education. She was also a fellow at the Professional Development Initiative Program sponsored by the National U.S-Arab Chamber of Commerce, Kuwait Ministry of Higher Education, Embassy of Kuwait, and the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences. Alymamah’s work has been published in Harper’s Bazaar Arabia, Vogue Arabia, The Visionary Project, and in 7 Days: Expanded Edition by AC Books.
ArteEast: Can you tell us about your work in general and the main themes you return to in your practice?
Alymamah Rashed: My practice is actively exploring my body through reclaiming my womanhood, spirituality, and sensations. I aim to explore the story of my body by actively extracting my self-perceptive gaze that has been imposed upon it by internal or external sources. These gazes stem from my past and my present. I consciously unravel them to formulate my future perception towards my Muslima body. I keep creating multiple bodies that lay in between my fleshed body and my thobed body (Thob Al Salat is a garment that a Muslim woman wears during prayer), derived from multiple memory scapes. My liminal bodies are cyborgian, not through the mechanical, but through the active utilization of spiritual intelligence (S.I), through the reestablishment of the operations of my body with(in) and with(out) the rectangle of the prayer rug. Moreover, this act of reclamation is not only rooted within my spirituality, but also within my emotions, sensations, and experiences as a Muslima, Hijabi, Khaleeji woman. The exploration of the liminal, spiritual body in relation to my current everyday sightings are the formative attributes of my method of storytelling.
AE: Can you tell us more about the theme of the body and the Muslima Cyborg that you explore in your work? What academic discourses have you been engaging with regarding these conceptual frameworks?
AR: The Muslima Cyborg is a term that best suits the formulation and construct of my bodies. It is a formula I constructed that collides two bodies: the fleshed body and the thobed body. I wanted to utilize the term “cyborg” by reclaiming it through spiritual intelligence rather than artificial intelligence. In other words, I am interested in questioning how spiritual sensations situate themselves within prayer and outside of prayer, within the body and outside of the body, and within the past and outside of the past. These explorations swim within Islamic philosophy and history, ranging from Ibn Al Arabi’s theories in regards to the faculty of the soul, to Hallaj’s views of the divine spirit, and then they trace themselves back into contemporary studies of womanhood within Islam. Sources range from Fatema Mernissi, Azra Aksamija, Leila Ahmed, and many other scholars, artists, and academics. I also have found out that there is not much research conducted in regards to the thob beyond it being expressed as a prayer prerequisite for Muslim women. Therefore, I use that gap to theorize myself on what it can speak for beyond its discourse.
AE: You recently moved back to your native Kuwait in 2019 after graduating with a BFA in Painting from SVA and an MFA from Parsons in New York. In your experience, how does the art world climate of these two cities differ? What are some of the challenges you faced when in New York and others that you are now facing in Kuwait?
AR: In 2017, I was working as a gallery assistant in multiple galleries and institutions, which made me step out of my discipline of being an artist for a year (it was the gap year between graduating from my BFA and applying for an MFA). When I stepped out of my primary occupation, I learned that many individuals from the industry might want to tokenize your race, culture, and practice, whether you’re an artist, a curator, or even a gallery assistant. I learned to not only defend myself from this reality but how to articulate it in a sense, where their gaze does not bleed into my own self-perception. I learned how to fully apply this understanding when I was able to voice it to my mentors and peers during studio visits in grad school, and this was when I started to heal actively. I learned how to defy self-censorship, self-orientalization, and self-victimization, internally and externally. As a Muslima artist, I had to learn how I am situated outside of my culture in ways that I do not wish anyone would go through, in order to exist in my fullest capacity within it. Being in Kuwait is extremely crucial for my practice. I have an immense amount of energy to enhance and reestablish our art scene through my practice and beyond it. In Kuwait, you cannot be stuck in the studio all the time. You have to step out and give back, to create a system and to lift other artists with you, regardless of whether they’re emerging or established. Lastly, there’s one factor that has passed on from New York to Kuwait, and that is the ability to feel time washing over you, under you, and next to you.
AE: What and who are some of your major creative influences, and why?
AR: I am influenced by Baya for her vibrant expressions of the eastern woman. I am influenced by Chris Ofili for his methodology of storytelling. I am influenced by my grad school mentor, Kamrooz Aram, for his deep exploration into the ornament. I am influenced by Henri Matisse for the sense of play founded within his color theory system. I am influenced by Hilma af Klint, for her courage to be able to create work that was beyond it’s time; a presence that was meant for eternity.
AE: How have you been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic? Once the global pandemic subsides, do you have any shows or projects coming up in 2021 and 2022?
AR: I think we can all say that the pandemic has shifted our sense of articulating our world that’s founded within us and outside of us. It was simply tough to watch the news every day and not know what’s the fate of the world. I lost a job in the beginning of the pandemic, and that gave me the opportunity to fully immerse myself in my work like I never have before. I went through a shift within my practice, a positive one, which caught me by surprise. I was very fortunate to be with my family during the full lockdown and I was able to fully create work every single day. I have crossed paths virtually with such incredible individuals from the industry and we were still able to connect with one another from across the globe. There is so much power that lays within this sense of virtual communication that we have never discovered before. This has led me to have my first virtual solo exhibition in Kuwait through Gallery Bawa and an upcoming solo exhibition in Tabari Artspace, Dubai, during March 2021 and other upcoming projects with Hunna Gallery.
ALYMAMAH RASHED ONLINE: