Artist of The Month – Wadia Boutaba: dichotomies and interstice

Posted by admin on 3rd October 2013  /   Posted in Blog


The painter Jenny Saville stated in a recent interview that she found that as a woman, being a creator of life and a creator of paintings an extraordinary privilege. It is a fact that informs her latest work on every level. As a significant voice in contemporary art work she has demonstrated how women no longer exist within a painting but are also creators of artworks.

Wadia Boutaba is a young artist who also sheds light on women’s lives and what it means to be female. Feminism is a key theme and often informs the critical reception her work receives. In fact Boutaba occupies interstices and is very much inspired by the duality of her Moroccan and British heritage. She was born in the UK to Moroccan parents, who originated from Nador, north of Morocco. Boutaba’s paintings depict these tangible Moroccan roots and the diversity of this ancient culture. Its influence is highly significant. Boutaba calls herself the “Moroccan Artist” and her use of colour and the vivid depiction of Morocco’s unique society is redolent throughout her paintings. Yet there is a knowing which emanates from her British experience and education.

Boutaba often represents her Moroccan identity through a type of cultural dialogue. Within this exchange she poses many questions while constantly wrestling the challenges of having two identities. Her oeuvre reflects the dichotomy thrown up by such collisions of experience. The fissures are evident everywhere. However she does believe art can provide a bridge between people and cultures.  After all, Boutaba says: ‘The struggle of being influenced by two very different societies and cultures is not something you can really be taught to handle. Finding a balance is always difficult.’ Therefore her work both concurrently celebrates and challenges the notion of what was once seen as ‘women’s experience’.

Patriarchal lineage is disrupted as Boutaba overtly questions accepted norms. Her work explores these female experiences as a residue of cultural influence. The exotic and the everyday are carefully balanced in works such as Untitled 1205 So is the conundrum of being mother, home maker, career woman and challenger of accepted cultural iconoclastic beliefs.  These complex identities can lead to a fusion of fragility and strength. This dichotomy is often presented in Boutaba’s work Untitled 1208

Having studied at art school her initial passion was textile design and her degree followed this subject. Textiles in themselves have been used by artists such as Emin and Schapiro to subvert the dominant patriarchal hegemony. Yet Boutaba returned to fine art in her late twenties.She once said she saw the practice of art as a way of expressing not just a personal perspective but as recording what can be observed of the everyday. Consequently women in Moroccan culture often form the basis for her work. Her narrative arch was constructed through listening to female conversations. She has been fascinated by how roots and fibres are stretched and sometimes broken by the fragmentation of communities across different continents. Boutaba makes little effort to hide her political interests or cultural perspective. Her paintings avoid the artifice of supposed neutrality as if to say her knowledge and experience is socially situated – please take note.

Similarities between North Africa and the Middle East also inspire her. So does societal shifts which have seen women gaining equality. Her use of colour underscores the profound change and celebration of the new. Sometimes Boutaba says her work is inspired mainly by feeling, and responses to what is actually happening within the immediate domestic surrounding as well as the wider political arena. It’s the interplay of private and public, traditional and contemporary, female and feminine which is so intriguing in Boutaba’s work. Lahd Gallery is proud to be featuring such powerful work.

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