Burnt Offerings to Heal the Soul
Over the past few decades, there have been tens of thousands of children from expatriate families, who spent happy childhoods in the Kingdom and then went on to live as adults in other nations. There have also been a smaller number of Saudi children who lived abroad for many of their formative years and then came back to the Kingdom as teens or adults. The success of these individuals at integrating themselves into Saudi society has been mixed. Some have created happy lives here after a period of adaptation. Others have eventually left, returning only for short visits.
This is the story of one of those children, who returned to the Kingdom after spending years in the United States. It hadn’t been her choice to go. It wasn’t her decision to return. As a teenage girl growing up in a conservative Saudi family, it was naturally assumed that she would be a part of her parent’s lives wherever destiny led.
Nada Abdul Rahim Farhat was not a stranger to the kingdom. She’d spent pleasant months every summer visiting her cousins in Jeddah, splashing in the Red Sea beaches and attending wedding parties. Her image of the Kingdom was one filled with laughter, good times and carefree days. Then in 1994 the moment came for her family to return to Saudi Arabia, where her father was to take up his career at King Fahad University of Petroleum and Minerals in the Eastern Provence. Suddenly, 16-year-old Nada was thrust into a new world.
“Even though we’d return frequently to Saudi Arabia, I found that living here was very different from just being a visitor,” Farhat explained. “There were huge changes at school, in our social life, in what was expected of me—really the first year was a struggle because so many adjustments had to be made. I will say that my parents had always kept their values so my home life was very stable and normal, but the entire surrounding environment was different. It was a lot to cope with and honestly, it wasn’t easy.”
However Farhat survived and in fact excelled. Within a few years she had graduated and gained entrance to the medical program at King Faisal University in Dammam. But she admits that she felt stifled. There weren’t many outlets, either social or emotional for a young woman in the Kingdom. During her days at school in the United States, she’d learned a lot about the basics of drawing and painting and had even won several student art contests. Now, looking for an expectable means of expression for a Saudi woman, she turned to the campus.
“Because I am a medical student, the casual observer would say that art is my hobby. But it’s not. My art is really a kind of healing sole. A physician is what some day I am suppose to be. My art is who I am. As a medical student and a woman, I often have to hold back my true feelings. With my art, that is not a concern. Paint and canvas are what I really need to be free,” said Farhat.
And free she is. Her parents don’t interfere in any way with her art. In fact, they came to Farhat’s first solo show held at Inma Gallery just like so many other curious visitors.
“Fortunately my parents are very open minded,” Farhat said with a smile. “My father is conservative but he has never wanted his daughters to feel mentally dependent on him. I never thought of going to study at a university abroad, but I did want something more than what a traditional education in the Kingdom would offer. My family has supported me in everything I need to make my art asuccess. My art is causing massive inconvenience at our house and because I am a student I have to turn to my parents for funding. I am sometimes irrational in my needs for time and space too, but my family is always there, encouraging me.”
Farhat’s exhibition at Inma Gallery, “The Lost Arab World,” consists of 83 pieces done in Acrylic or ink on paper or canvas. Featured images in the art are traditional doors, mosques and carpets combined with calligraphy while the subject mater maybe traditional, the art is not. A painting maybe broken into more than one plane. Copper leaf, sand, burlap or silver ornaments have been worked into some compositions. Farhat felt that many of her images didn’t seem complete once they were technically finished. She decided they were missing an ingredient. So she brought a little fate into their creation and set them on fire. What remains has been lovingly preserved between tinted glass plates.
Farhat’s interest in medicine is a prominent theme through out the exhibition. The mounted art is augmented with displays of natural healing consisting of stones, candles and dried herbs—allarranged to set the mood for emotional well-being. Her sales have been high for a virtual unknown, so perhaps the sense of calm that pervades the gallery has been soothing both the soles and the pockets of the visitors. One unusual piece on display, consisting of four parts or “sisters” was created while Farhat was learning to cast broken limbs during her practical medical training. She became fascinated with the plaster gauze used to make casts and splints, and the sticky stuff has now been immortalized as the foundation for a work of art. Also, in another unusual twist for a Saudi artist, Farhat considers her frames to be as important as the art inside them. So she has made her own, admitting that sometimes she crafted the frame first and then visualized the art that would fit inside it.
Do to over whelming interest; The Last Arab World has been extended through Sunday at the Inma Gallery in Al-Khobar. Some evenings the artist is available at the gallery to provide personal insights on her work. If you are unable to attend the show, images of her work are mounted online at www.nadafarhat.com