Fatima Mohammed Comments on Social Dichotomy Through Art

Contemporary Qatari artist Fatima Mohammed in real life is unlike the alter-persona she takes on in her canvas. Fatima is an introvert who loves her own company yet observes the world with a fierce intensity which later manifests as the personality she creates in her visual world. Through her fictional character, Anaj, she focuses on the social anatomy of the Arabian Gulf that keeps changing with time. By Sindhu Nair

Fatima Mohammed in real life must be persuaded to talk but when she does, she reveals herself slowly; emotions, insecurities, strengths, et all, layer by layer. Coming from a family of mixed lineage, half Qatari and half Palestinian, Fatima’s world has always been trying to make sense of diverse cultures and influences around her. Which is why she has created an alter-ego to make sense of the world, as she expresses her unadulterated and bold views of the world through this personality.

Anaj in New York.

Having started her career in 2016 as a contemporary artist, Fatima’s work always centred around culture and identity. The creation of an alternate persona in her art world reflects the cultural dichotomy of being an Arab in a modern world that is ridden with Western influences.

Fatima’s alter-ego in its inception wears an Arabic attire and sports a batoola, the traditional face cover worn by Arabic women, while her eyes rove over the Western culture that seem to be permeate far and wide.

“I see myself in the character, embracing the two sides of the world, being affected by the modernisation and developments of the West while being bound by the traditions of our Arab culture,” says Fatima, whose supporting parents encouraged her to think and discuss this dichotomy seen in the world.

The batoola-clad character soon evolves into an eagle-beaked, Abaya-clad woman, the change divulges the transformation of the person bound by traditions being influenced by the Westernisation around. The fun feature of the alter-ego is the large beak, which reflects the Western influence, borrowed from the representative eagle of the Americas.

The entirety of the alter-ego is to create an interesting, perhaps a little confused character that has a mixed identity much like its creator. This alter-ego is called 3naj (Anaj)and it roams around places in Doha and in the US and gives its unadulterated vision of the world around.

Influences in Art

Fatima’s earliest initiation to art was from her maternal grandmother who was an art teacher, the first person who also recognised her talent and kept appreciating and encouraging her. Fatima was always unconventional and contemporary in her choices of the medium of work. She has worked on different mediums, with diverse messages, with photographs and videos and has even used asphalt in some of her works to get the effect of the “black” background. Her famous Oil as Black Gold series has beak-like creatures who use their beaks to tap the black gold/oil in the country. A series that is all representative of the place she is born in. These paintings are also part of The Ned Doha’s very prolific collection and is a series, Fatima is proud of.

“While there were some resistances initially to my kind of work from others there was always encouragement from my teachers in VCUarts in Qatar, which helped me gain confidence in my line of work,” says Fatima who completed her BFA in Painting and Printmaking at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts in Qatar (VCUarts Qatar) 2016. She names Michael Perrone, Assistant Professor at VCUarts Qatar and Fleming Jeffries, Adjunct Faculty as her mentors along with her grandmother, the first teacher in her life.

“The residency in New York was one of the best times I had. I explored and evolved more artistically. I started exploring more techniques and started concentrating on photography as well. I even took my own images within these frames to bring about a story of juxtaposing an Arab personality in a Western canvas,” she says.

Social Messages through Art

Fatima has touched on various topics and one of the strong messages she has tried to convey is of waste generated with plastics in her group exhibition, Plastic Seas: Eco- fables which was shown in Katara. She photographed herself as the alter personality with an Abaya that has used plastics as embellishments. She photographs herself in stark backgrounds that reflect the dire nature of the issue of one-time use plastics.

“I used 1000 pieces of used bottles stuck with bobby pins to the abaya to show the dire nature of the issue that needs to be investigated. It is a world-wide crisis that needs immediate attention,” she says.

All this comes from a strong commitment of change through art.

“Art always reaches a wider audience, it is a universal medium that is understood by all, even those who do not read or write,” she says on why she uses art to spread her messages.

Once as part of her self-portrait sessions she wears the traditional Abaya and positions herself in a religious and perhaps a volatile part of New York neighbourhood to understand how people view diverse religions.

“I was interested in the reaction of the people who consisted mostly of hipsters and even religious people in that spot that I had picked up. I was the only person dressed like that. People were interested in my actions and looked on, but no one stopped me,” she says.

“Though Qatar is an emerging market, there is a lot of appreciation and encouragement for artists, especially from Fire Station Museum and the entire Qatar Museums which helps sustain creativity,” she says.

Fatima is in the process of refining her alter-ego to match the change she has undergone, observing, and recording things commonplace in Doha which will soon be part of a new series she is working on.
Hence do not be surprised if you spot Fatima in an Abaya around Doha, sporting a much-refined beak but without the trademark hat, documenting her progress in art. You are allowed to go and talk to Anaj/Fatima and find more about her or her alter-ego….