Reflecting on “After The Beep”, Reclaiming Space and Realizing Value
By Sarah Afaneh
Published on September 4th, 2021
This summer, wedged between dusty boxes and photo albums, I found my very first diary, hot pink and encompassing an embarrassing amount of childhood secrets: from “hating” my older sisters, summers in Jordan, to the first boy I was infatuated with. I was taken aback by my ability to articulate my feelings, to express myself, and was left wondering why, as I grew older, I failed to consider my creative writing seriously. Writing was second nature, evidently something I resorted to when upset or excited or scared (and that I continue to), yet I pushed it aside at a young age.
As I grew older, I failed to consider my creative writing seriously.
The art that I was exposed to early on — and that was praised by teachers, magazines and social media — was colonial, mostly; always in English, rooted in inspiration from movements that originated in the West. The books I read were set in the U.S. mainly, and I found myself frequently feeling distant from the characters and the plot, from physical appearance to themes. How could I imitate, and develop my writing from, work that in no way resonated with me? And to achieve success, or even access it, coming from money was a prerequisite. So, my perception of the art world formed into one of an elitist space, where a female person of color simply would not fit. My chances of success were slim to none, unrealistic and ambitious. Ten years later, I am fortunate enough to have my writing displayed in “After the Beep” at Satellite, silencing the notion that “those ‘othered’ do not belong”, and able to explore work concerned with an experience beyond the hegemonies of the Western world.
My perception of the art world formed into one of an elitist space, where a female person of color simply would not fit.
1. 1/3 images from @sweetprincessgirllove by Anita Shishani. Photograph by Maria Daher. Courtesy of the curators.
barbie&ken, the poem I wrote in response to @sweetprincessgirllove, was inspired by Anita Shishani’s exploration of the societal pressures placed on the female body, and its exacerbation in the digital landscape. Looking at her use of filters and captions evoked a sense of childhood; I was 14 years old again, surrounded by a world of expectations that I was not sure I could meet, or if I even wanted to.
2. barbie&ken by Sarah Afaneh. Photograph by Maria Daher. Image courtesy of the curators.
My initial interpretation of Anita’s piece (...) led me to delve deeper into the earliest encounter I personally had with the construct of beauty standards.
Running with my initial interpretation of Anita’s piece — nudged by the 48 hour time frame to simply create what comes to me — led me to delve deeper into the earliest encounter I personally had with the construct of beauty standards. A natural development from the theme of social expectations for young girls to its colonial origins, and more so, to the struggle trying to grapple being blatantly different in the face of the “ideal”, found its way onto my keyboard. Letting go of anxiety, and allowing the creative self to take control, produced a work that I was proud of and that explored themes that were important to me.
A strong response to barbie&ken online left my heart warm.
Weeks after I submitted, anxiously waiting for the exhibition, a strong response to barbie&ken online left my heart warm. The poem was shared on social media, with people reaching out to me to say it hit home, serving as a reminder that there was a space for me, and by claiming it, others may be inspired to do so as well. Being preoccupied with creating the work, I glazed over the fact that another artist had responded to my piece. Reem Al Ani’s depiction in Friday Night of the “outfit swap,” spoke to the experience of many in the region, layered with the struggles living a double life. The development of the three works explored the female experience in a wide scope, from the local settings we grow up in, to the online landscape that requires careful curation of ourselves. I am left with a sense of pride and empathy, cherishing both the artists and the work that the exhibition provided space for.
The development of the three works explored the female experience in a wide scope, from the local settings we grow up in, to the online landscape that requires careful curation of ourselves.
After The Beep’s open call allowed for artists with different cultural backgrounds, mediums, and levels of expertise to create art in response to one another. The exhibition dismantled the notion that art is confined, with participants being each other's muses through the work we produced. As a result, a strong creative community was fostered, a free flow of ideas between strangers, friends and family. More so, being a part of a space where others understood the anxieties I was experiencing towards my art was a breath of fresh air. At a time where the digital world reveals an influx of work, we often are left putting ourselves down. Being a part of a project that demands creation in a 48 hour time period was a chance to let go of the perfectionism that many perceive is required for success. In doing so, I was left with the freedom to interpret and create without restriction, and it is only then that I was able to realize the value I bring as an artist.
I was left with the freedom to interpret and create without restriction, and it is only then that I was able to realize the value I bring as an artist.
“After The Beep” is an exhibition curated by emerging curators Anna Bernice and Sarah Daher. It is a result of a 2 month long creative exercise, inspired from the game ‘Broken telephone’, with 38 UAE-based artists. The exhibit was showcased from the 25th July to 31st July 2021 at Satellite, Alserkal Avenue in Dubai.
Read the exhibition catalogue here.
Anna Bernice is an independent arts and culture writer, culture researcher and curator based in Dubai, contributing to platforms such as Vice Arabia and Global Art Daily. She graduated with a BA in Sociology and Theater from New York University Abu Dhabi. She’s the co-founder of Sa Tahanan Collective, a UAE-based Filipino art collective dedicated to creating an inclusive artistic platform for Filipino artists in the Gulf.
Sarah Daher is a Lebanese curator, researcher, and writer who graduated with a BA in Theater and Economics from New York University Abu Dhabi and recently completed her Masters in Curating Contemporary Art at the Royal College of Art in London. She is based between the UAE and London. She currently works as a researcher for Temporary Art Platform, a curatorial platform focused on the development of social practice in Lebanon, the region, and the Global South. She is a regular contributor to Global Art Daily magazine.
Sarah Afaneh is a UAE-based artist and writer who recently participated in “After the Beep” at Satellite.