Shurooq Amin picked up a brush before he could even hold a pencil. But her burning passion for art did not ease her journey to becoming a world-renowned artist.
The Kuwaiti artist, whose work is considered provocative, has been censored throughout her career because what she says is simply an Arab-Muslim woman.
This is what drove her to seek a world without creative boundaries and to delve into NFTs.
For International Women’s Day, we take a look at how Amin and other creative women in the region are using this space to their advantage.
NFT and censorship
The idea of creating art that could not be censored was particularly appealing to Amin, as his work often explores the taboos and paradoxes that exist in modern Middle Eastern society.
In 2012, an exhibition she curated in Kuwait called It’s a Man’s World was shut down within three hours for including “inappropriate” content, as it depicted Arab men living double lives. The exhibition was her first to be closed, although it followed a similar collection called Society Girls, which depicted Arab women as having hidden lives.
For weeks after It’s a Man’s World closed, Amin’s morale was destroyed.
“It was traumatic, I stayed in bed for days,” she says The National. “It was almost like they were like, ‘How dare you, an Arab Muslim woman, talk about patriarchy?'”
Despite the backlash, in 2013 Amin created the Popcornographic series, a 15-piece collection that explores social taboos and conventional perceptions of being an Arab Muslim woman.
The name was inspired by an innocent slip her daughter made when she asked why her works were criticized.
“As soon as I heard my daughter ask me why people say my work is popcornographic, something clicked in my head. I knew exactly what I had to do.
Fast forward a few years and several canceled shows later, Amin has compiled all of his previously banned work into an NFT collection named Popcornography.
“In this space, I can create without fear of being silenced,” she says. “It’s my way of spreading my art without any restrictions.”
Empowering women in the digital space
Now that she has embraced the NFT community, Amin is focusing her efforts on providing the same opportunity to other creatives.
That’s how she crossed paths with Sharifa AlBarami, an Omani tech entrepreneur and angel investor with a similar mission.
Throughout her experience working with start-ups and entrepreneurs, AlBarami has always been interested in following emerging technologies that have the potential to disrupt industries and improve the human experience.
“That’s exactly what NFTs do,” she says. “They have so much potential in so many areas.”
After doing extensive research, AlBarami realized that decentralized blockchain technology can help bridge a huge gap in the creative world as it gives artists rightful ownership of the original work, allowing them to showcase it. , to access or resell it more easily. It also gives buyers the assurance that they are the owners of a one-of-a-kind digital asset.
“It’s revolutionary,” she says. “Creatives have rarely been able to fully leverage their talents, and now is their chance to do so.”
The desire to forsake the existing labor market structure and cultivate a space for creatives to capitalize on their skills is the driving force behind AlBarami’s work in the NFT community.
“We need more artists around the world,” she says. “We need more people to create and express themselves, and this is the perfect way to empower them.”
The collector hosts a weekly Twitter space on NFTs in the Arab world, during which she breaks down the technology and guides incoming potentials. The Space is held in Arabic and attracts over 1,500 viewers and participants, with a notable presence of Arab women, including Amin.
“It’s a telltale sign of what’s to come,” she said. “Many young Arab women are eager to learn more and understand this emerging technology, and they are more than capable of jumping in and doing wonders,” AlBarami said.
How NFTs can help achieve equality
Another promising NFT project led by a young Arab woman is Beyond Power.
Created in early December, it is a collection of approximately 10,000 illustrations or characters of women from different cultures and backgrounds, highlighting representation and diversity.
Beyond Power was founded by Raya Oklah, 29, a UI/UX designer from Jordan who has been working full-time with NFTs for five months.
“I quit my job to focus all my energy and potential on this, that’s how much I believe in NFTs and what they can do,” she says.
She started by creating a few characters, then hired a team of designers to help her develop the collection.
Beyond Power’s goal is to equalize opportunities for women in the age of Web3.
“Web2, or the Internet that we know and use today, is filled with gender disparities,” Oklah says. “It’s an uneven space, but Web3 will be different.”
Due to the centralized nature of Web2, decisions come from mostly male-dominated authorities. This, according to Oklah, leaves no room for impact.
Meanwhile, the non-hierarchical structure of Web3 allows women to set their own rules.
“It’s a space that we can shape ourselves,” she says The National. “And we’re going to carve it out in a way that gives women equal opportunity.”
the The Beyond Power collection, slated to launch in April, features female characters wearing sunglasses with various empowering words on them.
“Powerful, fierce, hustler and more…these words are meant to be affirmations,” Oklah says. “We want every woman to watch our NFTs and see themselves in these characters.
“Because they are powerful, they are capable and they are going to bring change to this revolutionary space.”
How NFTs Can Impact Identity
Although intangible, some NFT artwork leaves a noticeable mark.
Such is the work of Nour Hage, a Lebanese fashion designer who ventured into the world of digital art in early 2021.
Her very first NFTs were portraits of three of the most powerful historical female figures in the Arab world: the ancient Egyptian queen Nefertiti; Dido, the founder and queen of Carthage, a Phoenician city-state located in modern Tunisia; and Zenobia, queen of the Palmyrene Empire, located in modern Syria.
These were sold out within 24 hours.
“I was amazed,” she says. “I first worked on these pieces as a side project, but then I knew I had to put in more time and effort.”
Despite her brother’s calls for her to get into NFTs in 2017, it wasn’t until the last year that Hage really got into the tech.
“It instantly clicked for me, I quickly became obsessed with them,” she says.
She put her digital art skills to good use and created her second collection, an ode to her grandmother and the life she lived.
“My works in general focus on documenting experiences and passing on memory from one generation to the next, and this collection was no different,” says Hage.
“My grandmother really led an intriguing life, she travelled, collected objects and lived so many things, and I wanted to translate that through portraits of her during her life using clothes that she m gave.”
Despite the personal sentiment behind the coins, Hage’s work has been a hit with collectors, many of whom minted their first NFTs from his collections.
“It just goes to show that being true to yourself, especially in such a new and supportive medium, can go a long way,” says Hage.
“It’s a very welcoming community, and not at all as terrifying as it seems. So for anyone who wants to sign up, do it. This is just the beginning.”
Updated: March 07, 2022, 11:55 a.m.