Samar Al-Shamsi is a renowned visual artist based out of the United Arab Emirates. She has exhibited her work around the world, and has had two shows in Egypt.
In addition to her artistic career, Al-Shamsi has received two honorary PHDs in architecture and business management. She is now preparing a third PHD in political science. She envisions political science from an artistic perspective, considering how to transform politics into art. Al-Shamsi equally expresses her creative energies in pursuits such as interior design.
One of her seminal works, Awaken Subconscious, focuses on women. The piece was banned in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, as the female figures were depicted in the nude. When the piece was displayed in an exhibition in New York, it was very popular among art collectors because it tapped in to the subject of the bold empowerment of women, but at the same time expresses the struggle that Arab women face in overcoming restrictions of expression and femininity. Despite the criticism Al-Shamsi has received on some of her artwork on women, she felt it motivated her to pursue the plight further, and give women the podium from which they can finally express themselves.
Al-Shamsi sees that “women in the Arab world are finally waking up, seeking to break the oppressive constraints” imposed on them by the societies in which they live. However, she considers these societal constraints as becoming more severe than in times past. But Al-Shamsi insists on the pivotal role of the will and character of every woman; a question of whether a woman has the inner strength to face adversities that comes her way. In this way, she calls on all women to “rise to the challenge and defy the powers that may hold them back, be it external pressure or internal hesitance”. She encourages the woman to not hold herself back from self-expression for fear of backlash or censorship, but rather, “the woman should express herself just like I am doing.”
Al-Shamsi strongly considers herself a feminist: she challenges everything, and recognises no concept of the impossible. Hardship holds no grip on her and she consistently overcomes obstacles that would be expected in such a precarious and pioneering role. Appearing in the media was problematic, as it is taboo for women to be so visible in the public eye, especially under controversial auspices. It’s ironic, though, as this sort of public attention would be the ideal for budding and established artists alike.
Al-Shamsi also faced difficulties in pursuing her work: she was not allowed to appear publicly and express herself. It wasn’t permitted for her to present her work at exhibitions, to directly address the media, or any of these essential functions that are indispensable to disseminating and sharing artistic views. Although against the wishes of her family to remain outside the public eye, which is to say appearing in magazines and newspapers, she ignored their criticism and felt even more motivated to be vociferous in the media and in her work.
Part of Al-Shamsi’s feminist sensibilities drive her to reflect the beauty of Arab woman in her work, as seen in her portrayal of The Arab Monalisa, which she drew last year.
The Arab Monalisa
A moulder of paint as well as words, Al-Shamsi wrote a short poem that discusses notions of the impossible: she describes the impossible as a “ghost”. This sentiment manifested in that writing is dear to her, for she feels she was able to poignantly express her understanding that there is no such thing as the impossible. This held true both for women and men, but especially for women because they are more prone to give value to the impossible in reaction to vehement restriction to pursue their passions.
Dreams constantly weave their way in and out of Al-Shamsi’s artistic vision. Her dreams speak to her as her muse, although just as easily, a simple incident in her day can prove equally inspiring. She lives by her mantra, “I dream, therefore I exist.”
In more technical and concrete terms of Al-Shamsi’s work, she says she likes drawing horses because they are expressive as humans. Horses are like people: they experience human feelings such as happiness, sadness and depression. The background, though, is contingent upon the tone and concept of the subject. In one work, she juxtaposes an Arabic calligraphy backdrop with a sharp portrait of US President Barack Obama.
Barack Obama portrait
Al-Shamsi contributes to the international community in even more direct ways. She has participated in many events revolving around anti-discrimination movements. Her physical and artistic presence won her an award from American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee for her excellence in arts, and she was also recognised by the American congress. Her future ambitions are limitless, she has a lot of projects and art pieces in the making.
As the elections are approaching, she wished to convey a message to the Egyptian people, and say that “Egyptian people and Emirati people are one; the Egyptian people are strong, determined and know no limits. Egypt is and has always been a land of rich culture, history and innovation.” She also remarked in regards to Egypt’s upcoming presidential elections that she believes Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi to be the “Arab people’s saviour”. Once the elections are over, Al-Shamsi hopes to dedicate some of her work to the Egyptian people.