As she prepares for practice in an environment that will present her with profound professional challenges, Ghaida Alkhelaiwi has the makings of an extraordinary artist. Much of her work addresses the image, role and status of women in society—which is particularly potent given that the society into which she born and to which she will return after her completing her MA is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Before tutoring Alkhelaiwi I was profoundly ignorant of contemporary art in her homeland. So, just as with much of the teaching at Masters level, it is possible that I learnt at least as much from my student as I imparted to her. For example, it was through Ghaida that I discovered one of her artistic inspirations, Manal Aldowayan, a female Saudi artist whose 2014 ‘Crash’ project explored the disturbing consequences of the country’s ban on women drivers.
For her final show at Middlesex, Alkhelaiwi is presenting an installation of seventeen black, linen, Niqāb veils—each of which she has decorated with Islamic motifs. The number seventeen refers to the unprecedented 2015 election of seventeen Saudi women to municipal councils. In the space afforded here, it feels impossible to comment fully on the poignant wealth of associations which this artwork might generate. One thought Ghaida’s work provoked for me was that, notwithstanding the appointment of Prime Minister Theresa May, it is only the span of a single lifetime that separates us today from the moment when women were first elected to Britain’s councils and Parliament (in 1907 and 1918 respectively).
That Alkhelaiwi has the courage, sensitivity and ambition to engage with this dynamic (and, perhaps, even perilous) field of artistic enquiry suggests we are witnessing the emergence of an artist whose resolve to pursue her own creative suffrage will give her great strength.
Kimathi Donkor is a contemporary artist who lives and works in London. Dr Donkor earned his PhD at Chelsea College of Arts in 2016. He also holds an MA from Camberwell College of Art and a BA (Hons) in Fine Art from Goldsmiths College.
Ghaida Alkhelaiwi is a Saudi artist who completed her MA in Fine Art at Middlesex University, London in 2016. Alkhelaiwi’s work explores current news and media and as well as an interest in Islamic patterns and Arabic calligraphy. in mixed media works she examines her local culture, since she was born and raised in Saudi Arabia. Ghaida has taken advantage of the many opportunities available in London, for example, she has exhibited in the group shows 'A Heap of Language', 2016, at Gasworks and 'New Wave', 2016, at the Truman Brewery, Brick Lane.