Reeds from Red Lips: a new book on Gender and Arts in Southwestern Asia

What influence does gender have on art production in nowadays Southwestern Asia? Does gender embody everyday life experiences, including the artistic experience? Are gendered spaces of the region Orientalized, demystified, or both? Are bodies, especially women bodies, described asexualized, passive and silent? Do local authors and artists living in diaspora reproduce totalizing or essentialist tendencies? Are power relations between the former colonizers and colonized uncovered? Has the aftermath of the so-called Arab Spring given women a greater voice and are more individuals willing to talk about gender openly? Is the view that assumes that women in Southwestern Asia are oppressed and left out of cultural debates a misconception?

In her anthology Reeds from Red Lips, Pamela Chrabieh explores these questions through stories told from a wide spectrum of voices, all from authors and artists who dream of peacebuilding, human rights, and women’s rights in Southwestern Asia.

From the Author

What influence does gender have on art production in nowadays Southwestern Asia? Does gender embody everyday life experiences, including the artistic experience? Are gendered spaces of the region Orientalized, demystified, or both? Are bodies, especially women bodies, described asexualized, passive and silent? Do local authors and artists living in diaspora reproduce totalizing or essentialist tendencies? Are power relations between the former colonizers and colonized uncovered? Has the aftermath of the so-called Arab Spring given women a greater voice and are more individuals willing to talk about gender openly? Is the view that assumes that women in Southwestern Asia are oppressed and left out of cultural debates a misconception?These are few of the many questions I had in mind when I decided to explore the issue of gender and arts. The diversity of Southwestern Asian voices is so vast that it is unlikely to work on an exhaustive review, and this is definitely not the goal of this book; neither is it to obtain a fixed view of the gender and art relation. In fact, this book is not an essentialist celebration of identity and differences with authors and artists speaking for ”the Middle Eastern Woman”- as Ella Shohat states: ”We cannot reduce any community to one representative, speaking on its behalf.”It presents just a sampling of a rich body of voices, thus only a glimpse at the visions, values, desires, practices and struggles this region has witnessed. It gathers the visions, journeys,statements, biographies and artworks of some authors and artists who either self-define or reject the gender binary by emphasizing the fluidity of gender and subverting gender conformity. It also displays a mosaic of languages and local dialects, visual techniques and writing styles; reeds that vibrate and produce different sounds and pitch ranges out of empowered lips.

Most of those who contributed to this collective work are part of the Red Lips High Heels’ movement (redlipshighheels.com), an online gathering project of writers and artists I launched in 2012 in Lebanon. This movement advocates peacebuilding, human rights and women’s rights in Southwestern Asia. It involves individuals from various ethnic, religious, cultural, socio-economic and political backgrounds, living in the region and in diaspora. Academics,lawyers, psychologists, artists, educators, employees of the private and public sectors, business women and housewives, students, men, women, and people of different sexual orientations, of gender identities and expressions, have been engaging in writing, drawing, reading, commenting on content from various feminist and human rights/peacebuilding perspectives, and in demonstrating their commitments to intermingling causes. Southwestern Asia has unfortunately been too often stereotyped, viewed as homogeneous and demonized, but the authors and artists featured in this book deconstruct prejudices. They tell stories of the rich pasts and current diversities of this part of the world. They prove somehow that the local belongings, realities, memories and histories are not to be analyzed through a binary perspective – they are far too complex, a mélange of grey zones and multiple shades.

The book’s contributors also unveil their innermost selves. Their works are critical engagements with contexts, interpretations of self and other, and cultural memory; they materialize and visualize embodied visions and experiences. Indeed, these artists and authors write about their lives and what they see happening in the heart of their respective societies and for some, in their post-modern nomadic lifestyles. Through their texts and images, they carry somehow diverse refrains of the cities and lands they come from and/or inhabit; in other words, diverse orchestrations.

Critics may argue that the arts and real life are two different matters;that shapes, colors and letters tell us something about visual arts, literature and poetry but not about gender constructions and relations. However, for the authors and artists featured in this book, artistic and literary contents and formats serve as a barometer by which one can understand some of the numerous intricate individual and collective identities, and how gender intersects with ethnicity, religion, economy, politics, age, disability, etc.; at least, one can understand a main function of art which is to contribute to change.

Dr. Pamela Chrabieh, Dubai (United Arab Emirates), 2017

From the Back Cover

This book includes diverse stories from Southwestern Asia (Middle East) on arts and women and gender issues – stories told through poetry and prose in English, French, Modern Standard Arabic and Lebanese, and through a selection of conceptual photography artworks, digital visuals, cartoons and paintings.
Featured Authors and Artists:
Dr. Pamela Chrabieh | Norah Al Nimer | Katia Aoun Hage | Malak El Gohary | Amal Chehayeb | Lana AlBeik | Dr. Frank Darwiche | Noor Husain | Joelle Sfeir | Maram El Hendy | Dr. Omar Sabbagh | Karma Bou Saab | Farah Nasser | Haeley Ahn | Masooma Rana | Sandra Malki | Maya Khadra | Nour Zahi Al-Hassanieh
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About Dr. Pamela Chrabieh

Lebanese-Canadian Doctor of Sciences of Religions (University of Montreal, QC, Canada). Associate Professor of Middle Eastern Studies (American University in Dubai). Artist, Author, Blogger, Activist, and Mother of one daughter. Founder of the 'Red Lips High Heels' movement.

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3 Responses to Reeds from Red Lips: a new book on Gender and Arts in Southwestern Asia

  1. Maria Challout May 18, 2017 at 11:11 am #

    Alf mabruk!!
    Hopefully Kindle will be soon available in the Middle East.

  2. Laurent K. May 18, 2017 at 11:12 am #

    Quelle belle initiative. Je vous félicite. Un grand bravo aux contributeurs et contributrices et au plaisir de vous lire.

  3. Anonymous May 21, 2017 at 6:07 am #

    Congratulations! Can’t wait to read it!

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