Interviewed by Sara Safwan
Jana Ghalayini's screen printed fabrics mesmerize you into a daze as they contort around flesh and nature. She uses the bougainvillea (jahanamiyas) as a metaphor of the resilience and strength of women in the Arab region, particularly in Jeddah, Saudia Arabia where the artist grew up. These women, like the wild bougainvillea trees, grow, untamed, yet are ignored and neglected and almost never cared for. Fragmented images of the flower, the artist's personal photographs and cultural motifs are printed onto the surface of the chiffon fabric in order to represent ideas of memory, displacement, home and sense of place. The process of creating and personalizing the fabric serves as a cathartic ritual for the artist and she hopes that sharing her art will shine a light on topics that are not always discussed enough.
Throughout Ghalayini’s work, the veil embodies the ways we deal with “censorship and self-censorship of consciousness.” The repeated use of distorting, fragmenting and layering images on sheer fabric are used as a tool to reveal the emotions within these memories and bring to light the fragmented reality of Ghalayini’s personal experience of living in Saudi Arabia. The role of women in the Arab world is evolving rapidly and Ghalayini, along with other artists, is taking notice and documenting the movement. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are re-branding themselves and putting women's rights at the forefront of their objectives from opening non-segregated cinemas to allowing women to drive and attend football games. Whilst these events are hopeful for the future of women's rights in Saudi Arabia, there are still improvements to be made, especially regarding domestic worker's rights, sexual harassment issues and of course, the guardianship system. Ghalayini believes that women should find strength in community and collectivity to resist the battles that come our way.
Banat Collective speaks to Jana Ghalayini about her practice, her thoughts on the current movements of women's rights in region and the importance of creating safe spaces for women. Jana Ghalayini is also featured in our new book, In The Middle of it All, available to purchase on our website shop.
Could you explain your process in the making of your textiles?
I use the veil as a concept dealing with censorship and self-censorship of consciousness, and is a means of self-identification and gender representation. Representative of a metaphorical veil, I work with large scale sheer fabrics such as chiffon; translucent, strong and durable.
With silk screening, I use the method of offset printing with a single pattern that is then repeatedly printed until the white chiffon is completely stained. Organized in rows the individuality of each mark represents the complexity and intersection of emotional labor and ritual. The patterns I create are derived from personal photographs and cultural motifs.
Shredded photographs are adhered to one another completely dissociating the image, leaving behind a gestural shape representative of the emotion of a memory it holds. Working with the concept of the mashrabiya an “architectural veil” is used to explore materiality of the conceptual elements of distortion, fragmentation and layering within my practice.
Another pattern, is the bougainvillea flower, directly silkscreened onto the surface, it is used to symbolize the strength and resilience of the women who fight daily against an oppressive regime. The bougainvillea plant can be found all over the city of Jeddah in Saudi Arabia. The locals often refer to the plant as “the crazy flower/ward al majnoon” because of the way it grows in every direction, taking up as much space as possible. As vibrant as they are their presence is easily dismissed, ignored and neglected similar to the women of Saudi Arabia who are constantly fighting to be noticed.
Your work is highly personal, relating back to your emotions on restriction not only to your body but mentally as well. Could you explain further?
Through my work, I explore identity within culture and society. I allow myself to release, reflect and understand emotions by creating metaphorical, yet fragmented representations of memories, home and a sense of place.
How did moving out of Saudi Arabia impact your mindset - and your work?
The distance gave me an opportunity for a better understanding of privilege and self-awareness.
Do you see your art as a ritualistic practice that leads to catharsis?
For me, it was important to use a ritual-like process as a form of self-healing and reconciling with my consciousness.
Dhikr (remembrance) is a spiritual and devotional act in Islam used as a way to connect with God. Short phrases and prayers are recited silently as whispers while simultaneously counting prayer beads. As a child watching my mom partake in this form of worship was comforting. Being away from home, the spiritual act of counting prayer beads, was a form I used to connect with my roots, and ultimately it became a form of dealing with anxiety. This repetitive motion of moving each bead through my fingers is a spiritual process where the continuous movement eases my mind.
Silk-screening is a method which requires complete control of your body, a repetitive machine-like process. This process is a form I considered a ritual-like process.
What is your opinion on the current situation of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia? Do you think there has been any progress?
Although there may have been minor improvements such as allowing women to drive, while the male guardianship system remains intact, women’s rights in Saudi Arabia will remain to be an issue.
Under this system, women require permission from a male guardian, usually a husband, father, brother, or even her son, to travel abroad, obtain a passport, marry, or be discharged from prison. Guardian consent is also required to be able to work or get access to healthcare. In addition, the kafala (visa sponsorship) system, affects many domestic workers, predominantly women. They face a range of abuses including, but not limited to; forced confinement, food deprivation, as well as physical and sexual abuse without the authorities holding their employers to account.
Do you feel that oppression of women has been ‘normalised’ in places such as Saudi Arabia?
Speaking from personal experience, I would say that it has. As women, there are limitations to the freedoms we have due to gender-based stereotypes concerning our role within in the family, society, and culture.
There are many sides speaking on the notion of the veil or the hijab, whether it is seeing the cover as a liberative act or an oppressive one. What are your thoughts on this?
I believe that the hijab is subjective to each Muslim women’s decision on whether or not they choose to wear it. It is an individual experience, and all women should have the right to decide how they dress. As a community, we should all support one another and look past physical appearances. Let us encourage each other, let us make all women feel safe and welcome.
Tell me something you have learned about yourself in your journey of self-exploration through art?
You can never stop learning and growing.
What is it about Banat Collective that appeals to you?
It's important to recognize that we have the privilege to speak up and express ourselves when many do not. Be aware of this privilege and use it for a positive change. It’s exciting to be able to empower each other and continue pushing past boundaries, to take control of the change we want to see!
What are you currently researching/working on?
My research is leading me towards on Pre-Islamic life well as Bedouin rituals and ceremonies. I am also interested in Middle Eastern textiles, specifically traditional Palestinian embroidery and Bedouin weaving.
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