The Red Coat
My piece centres around my red coat. I got this red coat when I first came to the UK, and it is a garment that I wear a lot and has a lot of significance to me. As you can see, the colours are fading and it’s looking a little worn down. I cherish this coat but as I can’t wear it anymore and I didn’t want to get rid of it, I used it for this artwork.
I work in museums and I am obsessed with objects and things and the meanings that they carry, so it made sense to me to use this coat as a basis for my exploration. My red coat becomes my artefact layered with different materials, threads, glue, paper brought together to tell my story. Throughout you will see cars and aeroplanes recurring across the various sections, and I did this to show that this work, and my thoughts on gender, are a journey. A journey that continues. I also used my photo which was converted to a cartoon character using a SnapChat filter, as I felt this would help me to be more free expressing myself. I would feel safer sharing my recent thoughts related to this topic to support my mental health.
The piece is divided into different sections that explore different things that have shaped how I see and understand gender. In this first panel, I wanted to track the journey of gender from childhood to now through words such as mother, young girl, daughter, woman etc. The text is written here and elsewhere in both English and Arabic. This was important to me. My first language is Arabic and language is a barrier I have had to overcome since arriving in the UK. But by placing the two languages together, I wanted to show that it is possible to speak and understand across language divides. You can learn another language without losing your mother tongue.
Across the coat is a patchwork of influences that I have come across that describe gender. From biology textbooks to the story of Adam and Hawwa in the Qur’an. There are images sourced from the museum I work in, and images that somehow remind me of gender.
On the back of the coat, I overlay my own image with others. As an archaeologist thinking brain, ancient cities emerge as I think everything goes back to the past, to the ancient civilisations. There is a lot about gender in the ancient languages and those ideas and that language have shaped how I have understood gender throughout my life.
There are so many biological, cultural, historical and religious sources that shape the way I understand gender.
Working in the UK on different projects, I have encountered many different people from many different backgrounds and each one has challenged me to think differently about my gender, my experience, in ways that I wouldn’t have in Iraq, in my own culture. I wanted to include how these different types of cultural understanding and biological understanding of the body feed into each other, particularly when it comes to LGBTQ+ issues.
That’s why I love working in museums.
In a museum, there is always space for debate. In museums, you can have exhibitions on Islam, on sexuality on different histories and cultures, all in the same place. It seems so often that we are all stuck on focusing on difference and miss the similarities. I often wonder, why can’t we be more like museums, open to others without compromising ourselves?
Not only is the piece layered with a collage of different images and words, but also, once in the dark and with the help of UV lights new secret messages emerge. Text and question marks overlay everything. With these question marks, I wanted to show that I am still questioning, still searching for clear meaning. I am still trying to navigate between different cultures, theories, ideas and debates. It is an ongoing journey and I have not yet found all the answers, but I want to keep questioning. I want to be brave and to explore, to discuss, and to create connections with others and with myself.
The experience of creating this work was very emotional for me. I found it hard. It wasn’t an easy process at all, but through the workshops and the space to create, I did a lot of thinking and a lot of searching. This work is the result of this searching and a proposal for more open discussion and bravery. Through it, I encourage others to talk more and to be braver, and not to hide behind their identity.