GREEN IN SUQ, RED IN MOTHER’S HAND
The title is a riddle that children of Al-Hasa, in Eastern Saudi Arabia, used to quiz each other with about henna. The work is eight prints juxtaposing traditional henna designs and traditional folk tales of Al-Hasa. In an academic research in 2013, I documented eight specific traditional henna patterns from the area. Each has a name; they are symmetrical, angular and have limited repertoire of embellishments. Young generations use free, curvy, improvised and individualistic style. Both traditions, old henna and old folk tales are fading away. Linking the old henna styles and the old folk tales puts each in its historical context of the women’s realm in the last century in al-Hasa. This work conveys the sense of loss and nostalgia to the past and documents vanishing heritage.
All the prints at this point, are artist’s proofs. They form an initial exploration for a larger full project with limited editions. At an average size of 75x100 cm, they employ geometric design and, in most of them, Arabic text written in the Hasawi dialect. The pallet is dominated by the earthy hues of henna. The composition echoes the symmetry of the classic patterns and borrows elements from Qur’anic page ornamentation. In the center of each image, there is a hand facing forward showing a pattern. The hand is embedded within a halo of a hand of Fatima design, and the two are encircled by the text.
Hennaed hands symbolize feminine power, protection, skillfulness, and sensuality. Making homage to old Arabic manuscript and pages of the Qur’an links contemporary visual taste to our earlier history and illustrates that contemporary Arab art is a continuation of its heritage.
Such long-standing Arabic tradition of linking text and image is one of the reasons I am drawn to the print medium. Printing lends itself well to words, shapes and patterns. Its traditions parallel those of inherited henna patterns in being formal and culturally regulated. Both traditions passed down, and honed through the centuries. Both make reproducible images. A henna pattern is repeatedly inscribed on new hands akin to repeatedly printing an image on paper.
This project aims to connect between women’s realm in mid-twenties century Eastern Arabia and our contemporary art world. In celebrating our heritage I hope to weave its aesthetics into our future cultural identity.