Every year after the rain season I would go out with my parents to a flat Sabkha (dry water basin in the desert) a couple of miles outside of my hometown Dhahran to collect a flower shaped sand formation that was colloquially given the name “Desert Rose”. Armed with baskets, usually used for gardening, we would pluck these roses with sand forks from the surface of the arid sand plates that were surrounded by sand dunes.
I grew up around geologists and oil-men and women and they loved observing the science of their rocks and crystals, but when it came to the Desert Rose it was always portrayed as a beautiful mystery, I became infatuated with it from an early age. In this artwork I will use their form, their environmental status and their metaphysical uses to understand the impact of the environment on human behavior, specifically on the changing status of women’s bodies entering the public sphere of Saudi society.
Focusing conceptually on the idea of an “ephemeral witness to time”, words used by geologists to describe the rare crystal formations, found in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. These translucent sand formations are said to be a memory deposit for the forest filled lands that once was (along with oil). But the Desert Rose goes beyond the scientific, as it also has a long history with the metaphysical community, especially shamans and witches. There is a belief that each rose has a guardian spirit that comes with it, and as a crystal it helps humans rid themselves from a variety of ailments including claustrophobia and dealing with “grief and letting go of those things/emotions that have been keeping you from living your best life”, I use this in this artwork too.
Today in Saudi Arabia we are addressing population growth, global warming, and the economical diversification from oil. This has meant a fundamental shift in gender roles and the contribution of women to the economy that is swiftly being weaned off of oil. In just 10 years women’s participation in the work force has increased from miniscule 3% to a reported 20% (CommsMEA,2019). This has meant that more women are leaving their private spaces, where they had a certain autonomy and power that was not visible and rarely acknowledged, and entering the public spaces traditionally reserved for the use of men, and have been meticulously structured to reject the female presence. This means that there will be an inevitable re-assessment of gender roles and the spaces the feminine body occupies. This situation was a direct result of the massive tectonic shifts our environment has imposed on our societies.
In this artwork I will be looking at the concept of the absent-present and invisible but visible within the culture of control of the female body and its evolution in our short history. I will be examining written texts and imagery used in books that are focused on instructing women on how to use their bodies in the public spaces she occupies. I will attempt to document and memorialize this moment in time, with the hopes it will instigate the right questions to be asked, like who will bare witness to these shifts in human behavior? Will we as artists contribute to the documentation of this evolution?
Produced in 2020 - Unique Piece - Medium: Natural Silk Fabric, Ink, Acrylic, Hemp Rope Dimensions: 220x180x100cm