Middle Eastern Women’s (Street) Art in Context

December 3, 2019
6:00 pm-8:00 pm | London

Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations

We are delighted to invite you to the third in a series of events inspired by AKU-ISMC’s new book and current exhibition by Lebanese-Egyptian artist Bahia Shehab at the AKC Gallery


Renowned curator Rose Issa and academic Lucia Sorbera end this series by reflecting on the aesthetic, conceptual and socio-political concerns of artists in the Arab world over the past four decades and the new shape of women’s street art, the challenges they face and the legacy of feminist revolutionary art.




Rose Issa - Arabicity / Ourouba

Rose Isa will discuss the aesthetic, conceptual and socio-political concerns of the Arab world over the last four decades as reflected in a series of art exhibitions titled Arabicity/Ourouba which she curated from 2009 at the European Parliament, later at the Blue Coat Gallery in Liverpool, and then in Beirut, culminating in her latest publication “Arabicity” (Saqi, 2019). Her focus is on artists – including Bahia Shehab - who explore themes related to memory, identity, destruction, reconstruction, conflict and peace-issues affecting the Arab world in the light of 21st-century upheavals. Across diverse media, from painting to installation and video works, their unique artworks mirror the pulse of the region, countering desolation with beauty, and tragedy with humour. They reveal how artists, with different approaches and visions are challenging the confines of their identity and reshaping the parameters of their cultural traditions. In chaos they discover that which endures.


Lucia Sorbera - Where do we go now? Feminist Street Art after the 2011 Egyptian Uprisings 

Between 2011 and 2014 street art flourished in Cairo and other major Egyptian cities, giving materiality to young people’s desire to re-appropriate public space. Graffiti soon became a visual journal of the revolts. Women artists, who alongside writers and intellectuals participated in the revolution both as activists and narrators, contributed to this new artistic wave by producing feminist narratives of this historical moment. Feminist Egyptian revolutionary art, by high profile artists such as Bahia Shehab and Huda Lutfi, was produced in parallel to that of young emerging artists, such as Hind Khira. Displaying diverse degrees of complexity, the nuances in the work of feminist artists can be better appreciated in light of the intellectual and political legacy of a century of feminism. Eight years after the 2011 uprisings the spaces to produce street art appear dramatically reduced in Egypt, as part of the broader political oppression that has gripped the country. Yet it would be misleading to assert that the movement of women’s street art is over. Rather, it is taking new directions.

This paper discusses the new shape of women’s street art, the challenges they face, and the legacy of feminist revolutionary art in contemporary street art produced by women. It does so by focusing on the experiences of women artists in an informal neighbourhood in Cairo, Ezbet Khairallah, where art is a powerful tool for social cohesion.



Rose Issa is a curator, writer and producer who has championed visual art and film from the Middle East for more than 30 years. She has lived in London since the 1980s showcasing upcoming and established artists, producing exhibitions with public and private institutions worldwide, and running a publishing programme. Through curating numerous exhibitions and film festivals, she has introduced Western audiences to many artists who have since become stars of the international scene. As well as holding exhibitions at Rose Issa Projects in London, she frequently co-curates exhibitions with international private and public institutions, including most recently the inaugural exhibition of the Middle East Institute in Washington DC (2019), the Beirut Art Fair, Lebanon (2017); the Victoria & Albert Museum, London (2013, 2006); Leighton House Museum, London (2013); Tate Britain, London (2008); the European Parliament, Brussels (2008); the State Museum of Oriental Art, Moscow (2007); and the Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (2007). Founder of the publishing units Rose Issa Projects and Beyond Art Production, Rose publishes monographs and comprehensive catalogues addressing the current concerns and trends of contemporary visual arts from the Arab world. Among her many publications, recent titles include “Arabicity: Contemporary Arab Art” (Saqi, 2019) and "Signs of Our Times: from Calligraphy to Calligraffiti", Merrell Publishing (2016).

Lucia Sorbera is Chair of the Department of Arabic Language and Cultures at the University of Sydney, where she is also a Fellow Researcher in the Laureate Program in International History. Her research focuses on the history of modern and contemporary Egypt from a gender perspective, and the artistic and cultural productions of women across the Arab World and its diasporas. She is currently curating (with Stephanie Hemelryk Donald and Omid Tofighian) a special issue on “Refugee Filmmakers” for the Journal Alphaville (forthcoming in 2020), a special issue on “Femmes, genre et politique dans les sociétés musulmanes: Un renouveau historiographique?” for Genre et Histoire ( with Silvia Bruzzi; forthcoming in 2020) and an edited volume “Sexual Norms in the Arab World: Desire and Transgression in Islamic Cultures” (with Aymon Kreil and Serena Tolino; I.B. Tauris, forthcoming 2020). Besides her academic work, Dr Sorbera undertakes extensive public outreach activities and curatorial work. She curated the Arab Women Film Festival at the University of Sydney (2014) and is the ideator and curator (with Paola Caridi) of the Anime Arabe/Arab Souls programme at the Torino Book Fair in Italy, which focuses on the literary and artistic vanguards from the Arab world and its diasporas since 2016. In this context, she organised and chaired several panels with numerous women artists from the Middle East, such as Bahia Shehab, Rim Fadda, Gavit Eliat and Zena el-Khalil.


Dr Kathryn Spellman Poots, Associate Professor at AKU-ISMC and Visiting Associate Professor at Columbia University. Editor of “The Political Aesthetics of Global Protest: The Arab Spring and Beyond” (with P. Werbner and M. Webb; EUP/AKU-ISMC 2014).


The event is free but booking is essential.  Book here.


Atrium Conference Room,

Aga Khan Centre,

10 Handyside Street,

London N1C 4DN