To mark New Zealand’s 125-year anniversary of women's suffrage, the City Gallery has chosen to present work by a female artist from the latest country to give women the vote.
Curator Moya Lawson looked into the ‘lively, behind-closed-doors’ art scene in Saudi Arabia and found photographer Arwa Alneami. Her surreptitious photos and videos show women enjoying an amusement park in Abha, where their experiences are heavily policed. In some shots, the women cover their mouths and hang onto their garments, as screaming and wardrobe malfunctions are strictly prohibited. Others show them delighting in dodgem cars and quad bikes. It was illegal for women to drive at the time.
Alneami is part of the arts collective Edge of Arabia. Her very existence as a contemporary artist challenges the restrictions her country places on female self-expression, as does her work. ‘She’s taking on a feminist cause in a clever, not in-your-face way,’ says Lawson. 'She can’t be too overt and she can’t speak out against the status quo. Instead she’s taken a universal leisure activity and played on it. She’s used satire to disarm the regime.’
The images might be unexpected for a western audience but they were familiar to Lawson, who was born in Kuwait, ‘less conservative than Saudi Arabia but still a Muslim country.’ She remembers going to amusement parks at night, as it was simply too hot during the day. 'I felt a nostalgia for my childhood,’ she says.
Arwa Alneami’s Never Never Land
City Gallery Wellington
11 August – 4 November
First published Art Zone #75