Hannan Abu-Hussein

1972 | Umm El-Fahem, Israel

Multidisciplinary artist.

Hannan Abu-Hussein earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, studied Education & Arts Institution Management at the School of Business of Tel Aviv University, and received a postgraduate diploma from the Department of Ceramics at the Bezalel Academy. H. Abu-Hussein also holds an MA in Art History from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

She has lived and worked in Jerusalem since 1996 and teaches at the Shenkar College of Engineering, Design, and Art in Ramat Gan, at the Kibbutzim College of Education, Technology, and the Arts in Tel Aviv, and at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

H. Abu-Hussein is actively engaged in defense of women’s rights, particularly within Arab society in Israel. Through her artistic oeuvre, H. Abu-Hussein explores the various forms of violence inflicted on women, such as forced marriages, child marriages, family-imposed restrictions on study or employment, the prohibition of pre-marital sexual relations, murder in the name of “family honour”, and incest.

H. Abu-Hussein’s artistic practice is profoundly influenced by the Egyptian writer Nawal El Saadawi, considered one of the leaders of modern feminism in the Arab world, and by Western feminist thought she confronted during her academic studies.

Her radical and courageous approach has led to an artistic self-expression rare among Arab artists. For example, her series of works representing the female genitalia in various forms defies the conservative concept of the sanctity of pre-marital virginity. Her choice of motif allows her to go further than American artist Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party (1979) in which vulvas are presented to protest women’s absence in the art world.

In her artistic work, H. Abu-Hussein employs materials that have been used in feminist art since the 1960s, such as nylon stockings, bras, mattresses, textiles, sewing materials, 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.

In 1998, while still a student, H. Abu-Hussein exhibited several bricks each inscribed with a different Arab word: “female”, “whore”, “woman”, “family honour”, “she”, and “I”. The viewers were invited to rearrange the bricks to create new sentences, but all possible phrases pointed to the difficult conditions faced by Arab women. The bricks then served as a metaphor for the trampling of women’s rights and their murder in Arab society. Another work, Vagina (2001-2008), features ceramic eggs inside nylon stockings which allude to the practice of testing a young woman’s virginity, an act that, as Abu-Hussein explains, was carried out by her grandmother.

H. Abu-Hussein has faced a lot of criticism from various groups in Arab society who consider her feminist concerns as discordant with the traditions 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.”

H. Abu-Hussein has received numerous awards such as the Outstanding Artists award of the America-Israel Cultural Foundation in 2000 and 2002, the Master Teacher Award of the Ministry of Education in 2011, and the Ministry of Culture Prize in 2014. In 2015, she became the first female Arab artist to receive the Ministry of Education’s Young Artist Award.

Housni Alkhateeb Shehada

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