Defying the Patriarchy
Dear art seekers,
During the past weekend, I had the pleasure to sit down with the Palestinian-Jordanian artist, Mai Qaddoura. Qaddoura’s femenist, patriarchal defying energy was a whiff of inspiration and creativity during these times of uncertainty and doubt.
Born and raised in Kuwait in 1971, Qaddoura moved to Amman, Jordan with her family after the Iraqi invasion in 1990. She had already finished high school and was looking to pursue a college degree after settling down. Her heart was set to the arts but the society around her was all too discouraging. Because she wasn’t allowed to apply abroad during the war, she remained in Amman and pursued a degree in Pharmacy at the University of Jordan. After graduating, she married, gave birth and immersed herself in embroidery classes, cake decoration and several workshops yet her thirst for the arts was not yet satisfied.
Roughly three decades later, Qaddoura decided to turn a deaf ear to the voices coming from her patriarchal society and rejoin the University of Jordan to pursue a degree in Fine Arts. She is currently completing her final semester. “I cannot limit myself to one style, I easily get bored”, she told me. Her love for installation conquers all, but she constantly gravitates towards oil painting and sculpture.
“It is really hard to be accepted as you are . If you do not look like them, they don’t accept you as you are.. which is why I went back to university”, she explained to me.
I came across one of Qaddoura’s work while browsing through the permanent collection at the Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts. Her installation piece is titled ‘Freedom’ and it consists of several molded plaster hands hung from the ceiling, leaving a shadow behind (fig.1).
Women’s rights and freedom motivates Qaddoura’s artwork. Determined to mold her own hands in plaster, she sought the help of her professors and classmates in order to represent the many times she mimicked flying with her hands. “No matter how much your freedom is limited, as a woman in the Arab world, in your mind, hands and imagination, you can attain whatever you want. Your hands are your freedom.. the sky’s the limit”, she said.
When asked about the reason behind Jordan’s cultural art scene struggle, she spoke of Jordan’s economic situation and the extremely expensive cost of life. Art, unfortunately, has become a luxury. But the problem runs way deeper than that. The culture lacks an appreciation for art. A wishful dream, she explained, is for the Ministry of Education to support artists through funding for materials and exhibition spaces.
We spoke about future plans and her hopes of pursuing an MFA abroad, potentially in the United States. However, no matter where she goes, she plans on returning to Jordan and executing a long-term plan. She aspires to open a cultural art institution for underprivileged artists in order to properly teach them art and provide them with the means of support that they lack. “What is the use of studying abroad and staying there?”. “You should come back and benefit your environment, even if the outcome is smaller than what you have achieved,” she said.
Qaddoura’s artistic influences trace back to her childhood spent in Kuwait. There, she was inspired by the clean and striking colors of the Palestinian painter Ismail Shammout, as well as Jordanian artist Hazem al Zubi. She admired Naji al- Ali, who has been described as the greatest Palestinian cartoonist and probably the best-known cartoonist in the Arab world. His work used to be featured on the back page of Arab newspapers to compliment the political turmoil that he used to address. Up until now, Qaddoura still turns the newspaper to its back as a force of habit from when she was young.
Qaddoura’s return to university is a challenge to her environment and the art society around her. She carries that passion with unwavering confidence and defiance.
Check out her work on Behance & Instagram!