Hannan Abu-Hussein earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design. She also studied Education & Arts Institution Management in the School of Business of Tel Aviv University and received a postgraduate diploma from the Department of Ceramics of the Bezalel Academy, in addition to an MA in Art History from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Since 1996 she has lived and worked in Jerusalem as an artist, and has also been active as a teacher at the Shenkar College of Engineering, Design and Art in Ramat Gan and at the Kibbutzim College of Education, Technology and the Arts at Tel Aviv, as well as at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
H. Abu-Hussein has received numerous awards: the Outstanding Artist award of the America-Israel Cultural Foundation in 2000 and 2002; the Master Teacher Award of the Ministry of Education in 2011; the Ministry of Culture Prize in 2014; the Ministry of Education’s Young Artist Award (the first female Arab artist to win this prize) in 2015.
H. Abu Hussein is actively engaged in defence of women’s rights, particularly in Arab society in Israel, where women are continuously exposed to violence, murder on grounds of so-called “family honour”, family-imposed restrictions on study or employment, child marriage, the prohibition of pre-marital sexual relations, forced marriages, and rape within the family.
H. Abu-Hussein has been profoundly influenced by the figure and ideas of the Egyptian writer Nawal El Saadawi (1931-2021), who is considered one of the leaders of modern feminism in the Arab world. In her artistic endeavours, H. Abu-Hussein combines Western feminist ideas, which were brought to her attention during her academic studies in Israel, with the ideas of Nawal El Saadawi.
The radical and courageous approach to her artistic activity has led H. Abu-Hussein to express herself in a manner that is quite rare among Arab artists, such as her series of works presenting the female genitalia in various forms, in defiance of the conservative concept of the sanctity of virginity before marriage. When choosing this motif, she goes well beyond the famous work of the American artist Judy Chicago, The Dinner Party (1979), in which vulvas are presented as a protest against the absence of women from the world of art.
H. Abu-Hussein’s 1998 work featuring several bricks inscribed with one word in Arabic – “female”, “whore”, “woman”, “family honour”, “she” and “I” – on each is related to women’s inferior status in the Arab society. The bricks serve her as a metaphor for the trampling of women’s rights and the frequent murder of women in Arab society. The viewers are invited to create sentences together as they please, but all the results lead to the difficult condition of Arab women. Another work that features ceramic eggs inside nylon stockings addresses the issue of testing young women’s pre-marital virginity, an act that, as she explained, was carried out by her grandmother.
In her artistic works H. Abu-Hussein employs materials that have been used in feminist art since the 1960s, such as nylon stockings, bras, mattresses, textiles, sewing tools, and needles, but also materials that are associated with “masculine” activities, such as concrete castings, tiles and iron pipes, thus emphasising the equal footing of both sexes.
H. Abu-Hussein has faced a lot of criticism from various groups in the Arab society who consider her feminist concerns as discordant with the tradition and values of Arab culture. She has responded to these protests by declaring: “All I want is the right, as an artist, to express myself with regard to my own body.”
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