Alymamah Rashed’s gorgeous paintings are a mix of watercolours on paper and dreamy oils on canvas. Often describing herself as a “Muslima Cyborg” – a visual representation of spiritual intelligence as opposed to a piece of mechanics – her works are totally dreamy. Alymamah is a member of a post-internet generation that fluctuates between the East and the West. Raised in Kuwait, she studied in the US and is now based back home again, with her beautiful paintings investigating her own body on three levels: her fleshed body, the prayer garment and a combination of the two. Her works – which are often accompanied by poetic titles – are also inspired by her own writings, which feed into what she produces in paint. We spoke to Alymamah about her inspirations, the art scene in Kuwait, and what exactly is a Muslima Cyborg.
When did you know that you wanted to be an artist?
I knew I wanted to use art as an extension of storytelling ever since I was 4 years old. My dad used to illustrate his own folk stories with me after school with color pencil and watercolors. My mom would print hundreds of coloring pages from her work and she’d bring them home for me. I grew up with two supporting parents who saw my curiosity towards the arts and only encouraged me to take it to a higher ground. I took all of the art courses my school offered and knew I wanted to go to the United States to be a painter and a story teller.
Where does your inspiration come from?
Inspiration comes from navigating within and in between my inner purpose and outer purpose. I offer myself the gift of “the second gaze” to my surroundings, my environment, my earth, my afterlife, and my essence. I unveil something new within my timescape every single day through reclaiming and revisiting the past. I hold the present by rooting my history within a fleeting moment and say to myself: “This too shall pass”. I whisper my future during sujood. I see a shining chandelier at the back of truck in the highway. I see a broken shard of an ottoman flower tile underneath my car. I see a group of daisies (Nuwair) on the corner of my neighborhood’s kindergarten. I see pink Humaith bushes growing on the sides of a sewage cage on a roundabout. I see my growth. I see my healing. I birth my bodies. I see life again.
You describe yourself as a Muslima Cyborg, what does that mean exactly?
The term, “Muslima Cyborg”, is a system that investigates the number of bodies I am able to birth every single day. I attain two bodies: the fleshed body and the thobed (prayer garment) body. The collision of these two bodies births a third body and this is where the Muslima Cyborg lives. Every work is able to birth a new set of liminal bodies that investigate the following question: “How many bodies am I able to birth in between two points every single day?” Furthermore, the Muslima Cyborg is not Cyborgian within the framework of A.I (Artificial Intelligence) or the mechanical. Rather, it is transcendental through S.I (Spiritual Intelligence), which is explored through my own relationship towards Islamic spirituality within the prayer rug and outside of the prayer rug.
A lot of your work incorporates or is inspired by text, how much does writing influence your work?
I have always written poetry in the studio. I saw it as a sacred belonging rather than a thought process that led to creating the work. However, I converged the poetry within my works for the first time outside of my sketchbook through small drawings and eventually leaking into the titles of my work. Each title is an excerpt of a poem I have written within the duration of creating the work. Words are able to marry the intangible through the romanticism, the yearning, and the desire found in between themselves and in between the bodies on canvas and paper. My poetry is heavily influenced by Sufi poetry and early Islamic philosophy.
What is the art scene like in Kuwait?
What I admire the most about the creative culture here is the fact that artists, designers, and creatives are trying to widen their authenticity in a nonrestrictive manner. Self orientalization, chromophobia, internationalization, and capitalist western ideals are not being utilized as tools to create the work but rather as highlighted themes found within the process of generating the work itself. In other words, social, racial, and cultural locality is starting to be present among many practices rather than containing itself as a wishful though or a yearning. There’s still a lot of work needed to generate a full functioning art industry, however, I believe we have established a fluctuant community. A lot of individuals from both private and public institutions/entities are working to reveal the hidden wave of energy that’s felt among the creative community beyond accessibility and closer to renewal that aims to preserve and cultivate a new found language. I am personally very grateful to be a part of that dialogue through being present within my practice and within the ever-growing community.
Can you tell us about your current exhibition at Tabari Artspace in Dubai?
My recent exhibition at Tabari Artspace birthed a new experiential setting within my practice. I was able to showcase my watercolors for the first time alongside my paintings. The exhibition was heightened by showcasing my poetry as well alongside every piece as a caption and on the wall. Each work was also accompanied with a QR code where the viewer would be able to scan it and hear me speaking about the work. I was very happy with the end result since you can see the different medium of my practice conversing with one another in the space.
Working with Maliha Tabari and her team was unforgettable since I was working closely with Maliha. She made sure the exhibition would be executed in the best way possible since I was not able to attend due to the pandemic’s restrictions. It is very crucial for emerging artists to work in institutions, galleries, and museums that fully support the core of their practice in its utter freedom.
I noticed from your IG that you’ve been experimenting with sculpture, can you tell us about that?
I have been playing with sculpture recently through ceramics. I am currently creating small ceramic sculptures of my figures and investigating the boundaries of my bodies’ fluidity and rigidity. These works are pushing me to explore the duality of delicacy and the uncanny through compartmentalizing the bodies and compacting them as a dense mass. So far, these small sculptures are prototypes that will lead me to create a life size series of sculptures and I envision them to be placed in front of my paintings to create another liminal space that lays between two points, the pictorial (intangible) and the object (tangible).
What are your plans and hopes for the future?
I plan to find new bodies between two points.
I plan to illuminate new lights within my roh/soul.
I plan to share and challenge my vulnerability to open new spaces for myself and others.
Interview by Lizzy Vartanian