8 More Remarkable Arab Women Artists {Resource}

To celebrate 2019 Women’s History Month, I’ve put together a list of eight more remarkable Arab artists.

Tomorrow is also International Women’s Day, a focal point in the movement for women’s rights.

I had already created a similar list of female artists that come from all over the world, with one common thread connecting them all together, the language of their grandmothers, Arabic.

The below eight more women have helped influence our global, shared history.  They are leaders in their fields, innovators who have raised their voices up high.

Musicians

Asmahan – Syria

Amal al-Atrash آمال الأطرش‎ (November 25, 1912 – July 14, 1944), better known by her stage name Asmahan (أسمهان Asmahān), was a Syrian born[ singer. Asmahan’s vocal talent was discovered when she was young. She rose to fame quickly: she was not even fourteen (or seventeen, since her birth date is disputed) years old when she was introduced to the public at a concert at the prestigious Cairo Opera House. Asmahan played a very mysterious role in the World War II with British and Free French forces, which caused many to be suspicious of her death in a car accident. On 25 November 2015, Google celebrated Asmahan’s 103rd birthday using a doodle.

Illustration by Sophie Diao

Cheikha Rimitti – Algeria

Saadia El Ghizania سعدية الغيزانية (May 8, 1923 – May 15, 2006), was a popular Algerian raï female singer. Saadia, meaning joyful, was born to a rough life, orphaned early & sent to the fields to work. She began to write songs about the tough life endured by the Algerian poor. After World War II, she moved to Algiers where she made her first radio broadcasts. Soon after, she adopted the name Cheikha Rimitti (Arabic: شيخة ريميتي‎). She went on to record major songs, and in 1962, the Government banned her from radio and television for doing broadcasts under French control during the independence struggle. She moved to Paris but remained a loyalist to her home country throughout her career, marking raï history by taking the defiant step of recording her last album at the Boussif Studios in Oran, despite her official ban. Spanning a 50-year period she recorded over 400 cassettes, 300 singles, 50-something 78rpms and the handful of CDs, including one with musicians Robert Fripp and Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers on Sidi Mansour.

Writers

Naomi Shalob Nye – Palestine

Naomi Shihab Nye نعومي شهاب ناي‎ (March 12, 1952) is a poet, songwriter, and novelist. She grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, San Antonio, Texas, and Jerusalem, Palestine. Her lifelong areas of focus explore the theme of similarities and differences between her two cultures. Her poems are frank and accessible, often making use of ordinary images in startling ways. Naomi has a unique ability to enter into foreign experiences and chronicle them from within. She has won many awards and fellowships for her multi-generational work, and many notable book and best book citations from the American Library Association.

Mona Eltahawy – Egypt

Mona Eltahawy منى الطحاوى‎ (August 1, 1967) is a freelance Egyptian-American journalist, and social commentator. She has written for publications worldwide on women’s issues, Muslim political, and social affairs and has also been a guest analyst on radio and television news shows. Her family moved to the UK when she was 7 and then to Saudi Arabia when she was 15. After she received her master’s degree, she moved to the United States and gained American citizenship. On November 24, 2011, she was arrested covering renewed protests in Tahrir Square. She was held in custody for 12 hours and suffered physical and sexual assault. Her left arm and right hand were fractured. Mona’s first book Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution, is based on misogyny in Arab society. She is also acknowledged as one of the people who spearheaded the Mosque Me Too movement through the usage of the hashtag #MosqueMeToo.

Directors

Nadine Labaki – Lebanon

Nadine Labaki نادين لبكي‎ (February 18, 1974) is an actress and director born in Lebanon. She grew up most of her young life living under a war, until 1991 when the civil war ended. Nadine went to college in Beirut to study audiovisual studies and is one of the few Arab film directors to work in the Middle East, that did not study abroad. She went on to direct music videos, many of which won awards. She directed two major films, Caramel and Where Do We Go Now? that do not take on the political and conflict she grew up in, but rather comedies that showcase women who gather to take on love, tradition, and everyday life. Her movie “Capernaum” was nominated in the foreign-language Oscars category, which was a first for a female director in 2019. She is the first female Arab director to ever be nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.

Haifaa al-Mansour– Saudi Arabia

Haifaa al-Mansour هيفاء المنصور‎ (August 10, 1974) is a Saudi Arabian film director. She was born to a poet father, who introduced her to video, since Saudi Arabia had no movie theaters when Haifaa was growing up. He also encouraged her to travel to Cairo to get a degree in creative literature, before moving to Australia to get a master’ degree in film studies. She returned home to work on short films, before making Wadjda, the first feature film to ever be made by a Saudi Arabian female, and also the first to be entirely filmed in Saudi Arabia. Haifaa has since directed major films such as one about Mary Shelley’s first love, which inspired her to write Frankenstein, a novel Haifaa would have studied in Cairo.

Illustration by André Carrilho.

Artists

Zaha Hadid – Iraq

Dame Zaha Mohammad Hadid زها حديد‎ (October 31, 1950 – March 31, 2016) was an Iraqi-British architect. She grew up in a wealthy family and was sent to boarding school in Europe to study. In college she studied math in Beirut, before moving to London to pursue architecture. When she graduated, she worked for her professors, before being encouraged to open her own space. She became a teacher in several major schools around the world, and even had her designs shown at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. While the architectural style of Hadid was not easily categorized, it was appreciated and awarded generously, including when she was made a Dame by Elizabeth II for services to architecture.

Dr. Najat Makki – DubaiD

Dr. Najat Makki نجاة مكي ( born in 1956) grew up in a historic district in Dubai, known for having several souks‎, سوق‎ Arabic for marketplace. She observed all the colors around her at an early age and showed promise in her art work at school. Najat was the first woman to receive a government scholarship to study abroad from her country. She went to Cairo to receive her bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees in art, before returning to Dubai to open a studio. She uses her local surrounds such as desert, the sea and folklore to inspire her work in painting, sculpture and textile designs. Najat’s artwork was shown at the UAE National Pavilion during the 2015 Venice Biennial in Italy.

(I’ve written a manuscript for the life of Dr. Makki that I plan on turning into a children’s picture book. My hope is to create a series of children books about pioneering Arab women in art, movies and literature.)

I’ve introduced you to eight more remarkable Arab women, some Muslim, some Christian, who use their art to question their government, their society and their religion.  I hope that by introducing you to these women, you’ve learned a little more about Arab women’s diverse lives.

Be sure to read more to learn more about International Women’s History Month –

Happy Women’s History Month (2016)