Hunna Art Gallery Creates Space for Contemporary Female Artists in the Gulf


Art is not immune to gender inequality. Various surveys and research on market representation and sales have proven this time and time again, including a 2019 study by art agency In Other Words and Artnet News revealing that works by women accounted for just 2 % of global auction sales over almost 10 years. – period of one year.

Gallery owner Océane Sailly, who is also part of an international research group that studies inequalities in the art world, is aware of this. “In the US, Germany, France and the UK, when we look at major art fairs and museum collections, there is still a huge gap in terms of representation,” she says.

Sailly also says the pandemic has made matters worse, with many gallerists choosing to feature more male artists to get more revenue. “They are considered safer and sell better,” she explains.

Yet in early 2021, Sailly went against the grain and created Hunna, a contemporary art gallery representing women artists from the Gulf. The word is the Arabic feminine form of “they” and can be loosely interpreted as “women”.

Last Thursday, Hunna opened her first physical exhibit since she ran virtually last year. Entitled Pathways, the exhibition features the works of four artists: Kuwaiti artist Alymah Rashed; Emirati artist Alia Zaal; Eman Ali, who lives between Oman and London; and Syrian artist Talin Hazbar, who lives in the United Arab Emirates.

The exhibition is on display at various locations within Raffles The Palm Dubai and runs until March 23.

The artists are among the nine names represented by Hunna. Others include Qamar Abdulmalik, Moza Almatrooshi, Aysha Almoayyed, Aidha Badr and Razan Al Sarraf. A 10th artist will be announced in February.

Sailly, originally from France, has worked in the region since 2015, mainly as a researcher on French cultural diplomacy in the Gulf. She lived in Kuwait for two years before recently moving to Abu Dhabi, and she is currently completing her doctorate at the Sorbonne University in Paris.

To mount Hunna, she left her role in another gallery she had established with her sister in France. At the time, she was living in Kuwait and exposed to the art scene there.

Although she knew she wanted to showcase artists from the Gulf, she didn’t expect to focus solely on women. It was when she started making a list of people she wanted to represent that she noticed a trend.

“Some of the artists were already my close friends. I didn’t have an underlying idea of ​​necessarily having all female artists, but once I started doing that, it was the names that came out,” she says.

This decision brought a different dynamic to the functioning of Hunna. “The fact that they’re all female, we created a safe space between us,” she says. “When we’re together, we can talk about anything we want.”

When it comes to women’s rights and roles in the region, the Gulf still lags behind the rest of the Middle East and North Africa in areas such as labor market participation, for example.

For Sailly, the artists of Hunna “bring new perspectives into a changing world”. She says, “Through their artistic practices, they address cultural, historical and social topics that have long been overlooked in mainstream narratives about the region.”

Indeed, a number of gallery artists approach societal issues through multiple lenses, including gender. Zaal, for example, whose inventive portraits and self-portraits in Pathways are an abstract representation of the individual. She does this through the blurring of lines, as in a series of works where the artist paints a portrait from a photograph of herself, then photographs the canvas, superimposing elements of both mediums.

In another work, installed in the library of Raffles The Palm Dubai, Zaal created a pixelated self-portrait accompanied by blocks or 3D pixels in various skin tones, with two white and black cubes acting as eyes. This self-effacement is not only a material exploration, but also a deeper look at identity in the context of the emirates.

“Even though we care about who we are, our own names, we are also so consistent in our dress and our beliefs. I wanted to show that by removing the subject of this portrait,” she says.

A watercolor on paper by Alyamamah Rashed, featured in the Pathways exhibition at the Hunna <a class=Art Gallery. Photo: Hunna Art” src=”×0/filters:format(jpg):quality(70)/” width=”1440″ height=”0″ loading=”lazy”/>

Meanwhile, Ali’s series Corridors of power to also question the place of the individual within a rapidly changing society. Photographed inside the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Oman, the artist discreetly, sometimes almost invisibly, embeds herself in the major architectural scenes.

Her choice to tint the images purple highlights “the artificiality of the palace”, she says. “It’s done in this neo-Islamic architectural style that doesn’t really have an identity. It could be anywhere. It is true that Ali produced a non-place, a neon hell where individuality is controlled by the state.

In the work of Rashed My palm leaves breathe for you, hybrid creatures of human and palm contort in strange configurations. The artist’s distinct style visualizes a personal and spiritual calculation as the artist rediscovers aspects of his religion.

Works by Ali and Rashed are displayed in the hallways of the hotel lobby.

Alyamamah Rashed is one of four artists featured in Hunna Art Gallery's Pathways exhibition.  Photo: Hunna Art

Finally, Hazbar stones in silence presents two installations resulting from his years of research on the landscapes and natural environment of the United Arab Emirates. Using stones as a material, the artist cleaved, sculpted and transformed them into works of art. Through her work, Hazbar reflects on local ecologies and the stories and myths connected to them.

Despite Pathways’ works, the exhibition struggles to shine in its setting at Raffles The Palm Dubai. Not only were a number of works hidden away, Hazbar’s for example, but others couldn’t stand out against the hotel’s opulent interiors.

Maybe it’s just growing pains. The gallery plans to exhibit two more exhibitions this year and eventually establish a permanent space towards the end of 2022.

Its roster of artists remains Hunna’s best quality, and not just for their gender, but also for the ideas the artists continuously confront in their work.

This is what Sailly appreciates the most. “Everyone has strong opinions, but also very supportive ones. It has become a space that I really want to protect,” she says.

Pathways is on view at Raffles The Palm Dubai until March 23. More information is available at

Updated: February 5, 2022, 5:15 a.m.


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