Celebrating the Top Most Influential Arab Artists

  • April 14, 2021

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Photo obtained from The Art Newspaper

April marks this year's National Arab Heritage Month. Contributing to their region's cultural development and advancements, artists have played a significant part in this evolution. Here are the top most influential Middle Eastern Artists in media, literature, art, and music. 

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Shirin Neshat | Iran

Known for the portrayal of femininity and politics in her photos and videos, Neshat utilized poetic imagery to draw firm contracts between two opposites - male or female, light and dark, and plenty more.  Born and raised in Iran, Neshat strove for a higher education which caused her to move to the United States. During her education in 1974, the Islamic Revolution had just begun causing her to become unable to visit her familial lands. During this time, Neshat had started to use photographs and art as a form of output on the county’s situation. In photographs, she expressed the notions of femininity, militancy, and fundamentalism by writing political critiques in calligraphy on people’s faces.

During this time, Neshat had started to use photographs and art as a form of output on the county’s situation. In photographs, she expressed the notions of femininity, militancy, and fundamentalism by writing political critiques in calligraphy on people’s faces. Utilizing a grayscale for their sequence of tones, she is able to focus on the emotions she has photographed.

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Abdel Halim Hafez | Egypt

Halim is an Egyptian singer known for his emotional renditions of romantic and nationalistic songs and his use of the Moog synthesizer. As a child, Halim exhibited a gift for music, and in the year 1948, he graduated from the Academy of Arabic Music. In the years following, he was thrust into the world of stardom, nobody could reach his level of singing; he was a prodigy. However, he was not only confined to the industry of music but was also caused in various movies like Lahn El Wafaa (1955, “Song of Truth”) and Abi foq al-Shagara (1969, “My Father up a Tree”). 

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Emily Jacir | Palestine

Jacir is an artist that has worked with a variation of media, including performance and sound. She combines her artistry roles and connects them with her activism to create poignant works with deep and significant meanings. As a refugee herself, Jacir presented several projects that helped her comrades, one of them being The Village Voice that helped the refugees by marrying Jewish readers and allowing them to return due to the Israeli Law of Return. Furthermore, she had documented various political and historical events that have occurred over the years and displayed them in her writings and movies

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Cheb Khaled | Algeria 

Known for his blend of North African, Middle Eastern, and Western styles in his music, Khaled helped promote and introduce this music to their western audiences. By the age of 10, he had already known how to play a large variety of instruments, within the mix being the accordion and harmonica as well. By the age of 14, he had already recorded his first single. His style and tone in his music consisted of raw and gritty tones, those similar to American Blues, and retained the use of plain speaking. Aside from the various amounts of innovative styles Khaled used, his voice helped embody the spirit of youth, filled with passion and richness. 

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Boushra Almutawakel | Yemen

Known for her view that “women who wear the hijab or niqab are the same as women who wear makeup in the sense that they all hid their true identities''. Almutawakel is an Egyptian writer who wrote on her experiences of being a Muslim after September 11. In her writings, she faces problems with people demonizing, romanticizing, and finding women who wear a hijab “exotic.” Furthermore, she challenges the stereotypes and common view that Muslim women are suppressed, ignorant, and helpless.Based on her own experiences, she explores the many faces of this representation, including freedom, strength, power, liberation, limitations, danger, and religious aspects.

In her series, “Mother, Daughter, Doll,” she features a mother, daughter, and her doll in a sequence of increasingly veiled portraits, fitted with detail this imagery displays the ways in which women in Yemen have progressively covered their bodies with various styles throughout the years. In the end, she aims to reach out to her audience and bring attention to the social norms, and question how cultures view and judge one another. 

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Boushra Almutawakel | Yemen

Born in Cairo in 1911, Mahfouz is an acclaimed Nobel Prize recipient for Literature. Working as an Egyptian civil servant till 1971, he has written a variety of texts ranging from short stories, novels, and trilogies. One of these books, known as Sukkariyyah, also known as “Sugar Street'' - depicts the lives of three generations of families who live in Cairo from WWI till after the 1952 military coup that overthrew their king, Farouk. The trilogy provides insight into the 20th-century Egyptian thought, attitude, and critical views on colonialism. Several of his other novels tackle societal issues involving women and political prisoners, and politicians.