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)

#IqraChat The Map of Salt and Stars {Resource}

Reading Arab American literature is an important part of my life, as it helps expand my knowledge of my culture and history.

I recently read the book The Map of Salt and Stars by Zeyn (Jennifer Zeynab) Joukhadar to help me better understand the Syrian refugee experience.

This book moved me in ways that no book has done in a long time.

  • First, the journey involves not one but two young female protagonist, fighting odds well beyond their years.
  • Second, the chapters, for each country entered, include poems by the author that are beautiful and could stand on their own in a chapbook. I found myself reading them over and over again, often out loud.
  • Third, the assault scene was difficult to read, but I don’t believe our society discusses it in the open enough. Reading it brought back painful memories but opened up dialogue that was long overdue with my own teens.

I contacted the author and asked him if I could do a Twitter and Facebook chat online to discuss the book with others. A sort of book club, but not just in my living room or at a local restaurant, but one that anyone that wants to can join in.

Between now and February 26th, read or listen to the book, then join us on ACraftyArab Facebook or ACraftyArab Twitter where you’ll answer the following questions in time sessions (subject to adjustment):

  1. 8PM: What does the title The Map of Salt and Stars mean to you?
  2. 8:10PM: How do the two different timelines influence the plot?
  3. 8:20PM: Did having Nour as the narrator change the way you viewed the events of the novel?
  4. 8:30PM: How do the characters rely on their religion throughout the novel?
  5. 8:40PM: How is The Map of Salt and Stars like or different than other novels you have read about refugees?
  6. 8:50PM: What is the significance of the stone and why was it discarded by Nour?

To help find each other on Twitter and Facebook, we’ll all be using the hashtag #IqraChat and ##MapofSaltandStars. (Iqra is the Arabic word for Read.)

Please be sure to join us on February 26th at 8pm EST to talk about this riveting book.


Christmas in the Arab World {Resource}

The Christmas spirit is alive in the Arab world, and we have made a number of Arabic craft tutorials to teach about it. Christmas is even an official national holiday in a few of the 22 countries in the Middle East and North Africa.

Contrary to what is being shown in the media, there are multiple locations in the Middle East where nativity scenes are even seen in public places. There are also many visual Santa Claus imagery, who is known as his more universal name Papa or Baba Noël.

While it is common to think of the Arab world as only being Islamic, there are many Christians that live in the area. This is John of Damascus an Arab monk and presbyter from the 7th-century.

In Morocco, if you walk into a regular big city bakery, you may find buche de Nôel, a French Christmas cake. Rabat, due to it’s large population of foreign workers there, is often seen decorated with glitter, lights, Santas and other Christmas decor this time of year.

In Mauritania, Tunisia, Libya, Somalia, and Sudan, Christmas is not as common, however, a Christmas market recently opened in the capital of Algeria.

Egypt makes a big deal about Christmas since 10% of it’s population is Christian. People conduct a Nativity Fast for 43 days before Christmas, which occurs on January 6th within the Armenian community and January 7th for the Orthodox Copts. Families gather for celebrations at home and in midnight mass at church. Kahk el Eid is a common treat to share with loved ones.

Many would be surprised to learn that in Comoros, which typically celebrates Islamic celebrations that follow the lunar calendar, Christmas Day is observed by the Roman Catholic minority, with festive gatherings of friends and families.

Christmas in the Arabian Peninsula, consisting of the countries Bahrain, Yemen, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, is possible to find, if you know where to look. It’s true that in more conservative Islamic countries, it is not as visual, however, Christmas time in the UAE makes it’s residents feel like they are in a Christian country. While in Bahrain, many hotels offer Christmas brunch.

The Iraqi Cabinet added Christmas as a national holiday in 2018. However, the Syriac community has been in the Iraq since the Middle Ages. Here, Christians from the Syriac Orthodox Christian hold a celebration in Mosul, Iraq.

The Levant region of the Arab world has more Christmas activity, due to it’s location to the birthplace of Christianity, Bethlehem in Palestine. A parade is held through town on Christmas Eve, leading to the Church of the Nativity, an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Christians traditionally believe the church is built over the place that Jesus (Peace Be Upon Him) was born.

Very similar to their Christian brothers and sisters in the south, the Orthodox and Armenian Churches don’t celebrate Christmas on December 25th, but rather January 6th & 7th, respectfully. This leaves more time to see Christmas specials on TV or in the theaters that are in Arabic.

In Lebanon, Maronite Catholic are 35% of the population. Seen in more homes than a Christmas tree are Nativity Crib scenes. They consists of a landscape of a cave, rather than a barn or stable. There will also be spouts of chickpeas, broad-beans, lentils, oats and wheat that were grown from seeds placed on wet cotton/wool two weeks before Christmas.


Syria is slowly building itself back from the war. The Christians there that make up about 10% of the population are rebuilding their community’s Christmas spirit, celebrated on January 6th. Instead of Santa Claus, the Smallest Camel of the Wise Men is who brings gifts for the kids on the Eve of Christmas. Legend says that the Wise Men traveled in a caravan with many camels to Bethlehem. The smallest camel was exhausted, but determined. For his loyalty and will, he got the blessing of immortality and hence, on every January 5th night, the little camel brings gifts.

The country of Jordan also has a number of churches, most of whom use the liturgical year calendar, also known as the church year. This consists of the cycle of liturgical seasons in Christian churches that determine when feast days, including celebrations of saints, are to be observed.   Most hotels, shops and businesses in Jordan, especially the larger cities, will have some form of decorations and brunch specials.

Check out these A Crafty Arab Christmas s tutorial

Arabic Christmas Pallet {Tutorial}

Arabic Christmas Card {Printable}

Arabic Christmas Ornament

Be sure to visit A Crafty Arab on Pinterest to see more tutorials that teach about the Arab world.