Exhibition review: SOUL fury, Bendigo Art Gallery

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SOUL fury features powerful works by 16 women exploring self-determination, informed by their connection to Islam and their unique life experiences. This collaboration between the Bendigo Art Gallery and Nur Shkembi offers varied interpretations of the world through the eyes and understanding of women. The pieces, which begin and end with ethereal soundtracks, incorporate a range of mediums from sculpture to prints and photographs, textiles, video animation and poetry.

The works explore tension. Naiza Khan’s armor for an Indian warrior queen features a metal breastplate with white feathers layered over the waist, both hard and soft, practical yet fashionable. Metal spikes protruding from the back warn others that the wearer is also protected from behind, intimidating the discord between the softness of femininity and the formidable inner strength that women draw upon when under duress.

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A video of a woman in a black niqab rising and falling from the rising wind below is a nod to the scene from Marilyn Monroe’s film. The Seven Year Itch. The effect of the full-length black niqab juxtaposes that of Monroe’s form-fitting white dress, challenging assumptions about what is sexually alluring and what is oppressive. Cigdem Aydemir’s video is complemented by Hoda Afshar’s pop-art style images that counteract the models’ traditional Islamic clothing with modern accessories, including bespoke cigarettes, Coca Cola, and bunny ears. The nursing mother is remarkable, the Arabic writing in an expanding circle on her henna painted chest recalls designs found on Islamic shields in places such as Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.

Embroidery in different fashions recognizes the domesticity of traditional women’s spaces. The lush, beaded outlines of the women in Zahra Imani’s large textiles sparkle, inviting reflection on where the separation between the figures and their surroundings occurs, while Adelaa Suleman’s hand-beaten steel warrior contains impressive engravings in her embroidered cloth tunic.

Nusra Latif Qureshi’s Mughal-style art features vibrant backgrounds layered with fine line art. The detail attracts the visitor while the color of the block encourages viewing from a distance, the congruence of the big picture and fine detail hinting at the various elements that women often have to deal with when running a household or leading a family. This pull forward push back effect is intensified in Anida Yoeu Ali’s photographs, which center on a woman wearing a vermilion sequined chador. The bright red against the muted, even crumbling backgrounds is striking. The lush glitter of the beggar on charred black ground is austere, as is the immersion of the red chador in the turquoise ocean. Ali’s photographs contrast banality and opulence with contradictory impressions of freedom and subjugation.

These women artists engage and challenge stereotypes and misconceptions about Islamic heritage, art and culture while exploring women’s experiences, stories and futures.

SOUL fury, Bendigo Art Gallery, free entry
Curator: Nur Shkembi

Artists: Idil Abdullahi, Hoda Afshar, Anida Yoeu Ali, Cigdem Aydemir, Eugenia Flynn, Shadi Ghadirian, Zeina Iaali, Zahra Imani, Mehwish Iqbal, Naiza Khan, Nusra Latif Qureshi, Hadieh Shafi, Shahzia Sikander, Adeela Tawea, Shire

SOUL fury will be on display until January 30, 2022


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