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Waheeda Mallulah (born 1978) was introduced to us as one of the most interesting female artists of her generation in Bahrain. She is among the artists who, encouraged and stimulated by Anas Al-Shaikh , have turned to installation and experimental means of artistic expression. She was one of the four artists to take part in the first group exhibition for installation art organized in 2002 by Anas Al-Shaikh in Bahrain. She was also among the nine artists represented in the second show of this kind, the following year.
When we met Waheeda in Bayan Al Barak Kanoo’s Al Riwaq Gallery, we encountered a confident, pleasant young woman who, despite a bad cold and language barriers, was eager to explain her opinions and works to us (unfortunately we cannot speak any Arabic and had to turn once more to English as lingua franca). Fortunately, we later continued a deepened discussion via email.
The main focus was "Stopped Ball", an installation and series of staged photographs, through which Waheeda Mallulah playfully confronts her identity with the role assigned to her by society as a woman. Her starting point is a fictitious football game, in which she takes an active part as a member of one of the boy’s teams; given the gender segregation, this must appear as a sacrilege. Sport, however, is no longer an exclusively male domain in her country; indeed, Bahrain is one of the first Arab countries to promote female football.
In the context of this piece, she published the following lines:
When can we play?
To my children:
Play after Prayer!!
Waheeda’s installation includes traditional male and female dress, as also their black and white color. In graffiti-style, she repeatedly writes the Arab word for "daddy" in white on a black wall, and similarly, the word for "mummy" in black on a white wall.
She stages herself in different poses as goalkeeper, wearing a red cap over her headscarf. The netting of the goal is also red, and bright red elements are added to the manipulated photographs, for example in a rectangle right over her face. This type of self-orchestration triggers off all sorts of associations. However, Waheeda would not let herself be pinned to any specific interpretation. On one of the photos, she is lying on her back, under the red net, with arms spread out and next to her black robe. We asked her if this could mean that a breakaway from the traditional female role is problematic and maybe not so easy to realize. She replied: "I don’t know… sometimes yes, but we still try to smile!"
Pat Binder & Gerhard Haupt
Publishers of Universes in Universe - Worlds of Art and of Nafas Art Magazine. Based in Berlin, Germany.