It's our pleasure to welcome Manar Khalid to the BANAT collective interview series. A 20 year old girl from Saudi Arabia, raised in the city of Khobar, she started off by studying engineering in Canada to "make mama proud" but then found herself increasingly drawn to art. She shares her day-to-day in a ‘slice of life’ style analogue photography and zine-making while also offering witty statements through her illustrations. We enjoy her 'hands-on' way of making art whether it be in the dark room, making collages, printing stickers or drawing her endearing illustrations.
As BANAT is about expanding the discussion around women in the Middle East, we not only ask Manar about her work but also her opinions on feminism. She reflects with us about being “an Arab, a Woman and an Artist.” These are three ‘states of being’ that are incredibly relevant to any exploration of our regional, national and international; political, cultural and social landscape. Unraveling the intertwined complexity of these three ‘states of being’ against the backdrop of this landscape allows us to teach others what future, creative-minded Arabs can have.
excerpt from 'A Summer Daze' digital zine, 2016
Tell us about your inspiration behind your zine 'Summer Daze'.
Summer Daze was an artistic way of documenting memories of summer '16. My inspiration was different things I did such as exploring the island and being surrounded with friends and good vibes.
What is your favorite aspect about making a zine?
The best thing about making zines is 1) there are no rules! They're self published and can be about whatever you want and as many pages as you choose. 2) They can be multimedia. Creating zines allows my creativity to flourish. There can be written words, photographs, illustrations, and collages all in one zine! 3) They can be made however you want. I personally prefer the old fashioned way of making zines with scissors and glue, but making it digitally is more convenient when it's a photography or a poetry/short story zine.
What does it mean to you to be a woman, an artist and an Arab?
Being a woman, an artist, and an Arab are three interrelated descriptions of myself. As an Arab woman, I often feel limited in society. However, art is non-restricting. It's the most beautiful form of expression. It's a way of speaking out and making people acknowledge your presence. There's a quote I really like by Gloria Anzaldúa:
“A woman-of-color who writes poetry or paints or dances or makes movies knows there is no escape from race or gender when she is writing or painting. She can’t take off her color and sex and leave them at the door or her study or studio. Nor can she leave behind her history. Art is about identity, among other things, and her creativity is political.”
What is your thinking on the role of feminism in Arab culture?
Unfortunately, progress is very slow in Arab culture; feminism is treated like a bad word. Growing up in a very conservative culture like Saudi Arabia was definitely a challenge. But I'm noticing lots of potential in young Arabs. We just need to let our voices be heard. I think promoting feminism is crucial because a lot of people don't even get why feminism is important or can't comprehend the struggles women face in Arab culture.
How would you describe the current climate for women back home in Saudi Arabia? In the recent #TogetherToEndMaleGuardianship social media campaign, it looks as though there is some small progression to call out for women's rights.
#TogetherToEndMaleGuardianship / #سعوديات_نطلب_اسقاط_الولايه has been around for +100 days now. This campaign is doing something great because even though it's not changing the system yet, it is however changing people perception? Understanding? Awareness?. This issue was not up for discussion, but right now it's all over Twitter and newspapers. There even has been small changes in some universities regarding male guardian's permission in certain things. The fact that it's brought up is a huge progress for Saudi Arabia.
In terms of achieving rights for women, what is your ideal world?
My ideal world would be one where we have choice and where we feel safe. The fact that a racist, sexist bigot who's on trial for rape was voted to be the president of one of the most powerful countries in the world is terrifying. We are not even close to an ideal world. We need to fight for our rights while also staying safe.
mixed media, 2016
Who/What inspires you?
I find inspiration in everyday life. For instance, the other day I had a conversation with a Jamaican man that owns a small restaurant around the corner. Now I'm working on a zine called "Small Talk" inspired by that conversation. Inspiration can be anywhere: strangers, music, conversations, etc.
We're excited for your upcoming zine! What do you see in BANAT that appeals to you?
Posting your work online can be intimidating. What if no one sees it? What if it doesn't get many likes? But in an e-mag, there is this sense of community and reassurance of being noticed. BANAT is an accessible platform for women from the MENA region. I like the space it creates for young artists to share their work with people all around the world and I can't wait to see what it grows into.
What are your plans for future works?
I'm all about doing different things. Right now I'm taking lots of photographs. I got my first film camera just a few weeks ago and it's definitely different from what I'm used to [doing]. Drawing was my preferred art form; I would produce work on the same day I started it. Whereas film photography needs patience i.e not looking at your photos until the film is developed. I'm also hoping to publish zines every other month or so.
published: 15 nov 2016 by sara safwan