Lebanese artist Dona Timani’s exhibition “Paint a Vulgar Picture: On Bordering and Othering in the Arab World” is a series of self-described “controversial portraits” which “dissects Arab communities and the underlying ideologies of power.”
The works are intended to highlight and elucidate “the politics of exclusion and alienation, identity crises, and myriad conflicting ideologies across the geographical space labeled the Arab world.“
In a review of the exhibition in The Daily Star, India Stoughton opens with this description of one of the paintings in the gallery, The View, which includes the spectators in its discomfort-enducing meta-critique:
On a gallery wall hang two paintings. In one of them, a young boy sits forlorn beside his heap of shoe-shine equipment. The other shows a mustachioed man, his head wrapped in a keffiyeh, cradling a child on his lap as he crouches on a flight of steps, hand outstretched. In the distance, a figure walks away, oblivious.
Assessing this vista, a balding man in a suit stands, hands clasped behind his back. Nearby, another visitor strolls past the paintings. Behind him a young man clutching his own wooden shoe-shining stool tries to capture his attention, while a tousle-haired child stretches out his palm for money. The visitor, face averted, hand raised in negation, strides onward.
Timani describes the painting as a reference to “the Syrian situation”, discussing her own ambivalence about making art on Syria, on who has the right to speak of the conflict, and whether or not artists “becoming very successful because of the war in Syria” was exploitation:
“This is quite personal,” she says, “because I ran into this problem when I was working on the region. One of the things you can’t avoid is the Syrian problem… Of course the Syrian artists are the ones entitled to talk about the war, but the work I saw was…more emotional, a gut reaction. I felt guilty too. I felt that I was exploiting this theme … [but] I thought that this is what artists are doing. Some artists are becoming very successful because of the war in Syria. So I just tried to put all this into a painting.”
The series was inspired by the artists experience living abroad: “Once I found myself abroad I really knew my worth in the world according to my nationality,” the artist explains. This “humiliating experience” lead her to think further about national and internal borders and “the way we treat each other.”
The issue of migrant workers, whether in the Gulf or domestic workers across the region, is a recurring one here, reminding me of Molly Crabapple’s recent work, Slaves of Happiness Island.
In its focus on the politics of exclusion and alienation,” the exhibition shares the themes which run through Houmam Al Sayed’s series Pickles, although while Timani’s focus is on borders, inequalities, and power imbalances, while Al Sayed depicts people across the region as deformed, united by constrictions and distortions.
More on the artist:
Dona Timani (b 1979) is a Lebanese artist based in Beirut. She received a BA in Painting and Drawing from the LU Faculty of Fine Arts in 2004, and an MA in Plastic Arts from ALBA-Balamand in 2008. Timani’s work has been featured in several collective exhibitions both in Lebanon and abroad. She received a grant for her first solo exhibition from the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture (Afac) in 2013.