Creating a visual memory of raped women’s pain and portraying their interior voices are the aims of the artist Rand Abdelnur’s first solo exhibition titled “Woman II: Adorned with Jasmine” in Amman, Jordan.
Her paintings address Article 308 of the Jordanian penal code, a controversial article still at the core of socio-political debate in Jordan. The passage states: “If a valid contract of marriage is made between the perpetrator (of any of the offenses mentioned in this section) and the victim, the prosecution is suspended. If judgment was already passed, the implementation of the punishment upon the sentenced person is suspended.”
Like feminist associations and human rights organizations, Abdelnur was also troubled by the law. The accumulation of stories about honor killings, sexual violence, harassment and young women forced into marriage led the 27-year-old Jordanian painter to take up her brushes to raise awareness.
The colorful patterns of the tents where weddings take place appear in the women’s dresses in Abdelnur’s paintings. “I used elements from our culture. When someone sees these tents, they immediately say, 'Oh, there is a marriage!'” Abdelnur told Al-Monitor. “But now the same pattern is worn by a woman who is raped. It is a double punishment: First the rape, and then the marriage.”
This contentious article pardons a rapist if he marries his victim. A woman who has been raped is not legally obliged to marry her rapist; nevertheless, social pressure often makes her family decide on her behalf that she will marry her rapist in the name of honor. With the tragic spread of honor killings in most of the cases, marrying a rapist can seem like the lesser of two evils.
Ironically, the same tent may be used for a funeral or a parliamentarian’s election speech. Abdelnur said, “The message is that a wedding for a woman obliged to marry her rapist is the same as a funeral. I imagine that on the day of her marriage, she might prefer to die instead of marrying her rapist. This article, in fact, punishes instead of protects female victims of violence,” she added. “When I paint, I feel there are many thoughts I am trying to portray. And I incorporate our cultural memory into these colors.”
The tents would eventually be used to campaign for election by the same parliament members who refuse to change this article. “The people who can change the law are elected under the same patterns. I thought it was hypocritical and I wanted to show the contradiction,” Abdelnur explained. It has been reported that 95% of rapists go unpunished in Jordan.
Abdelnur defines herself as a political artist, tackling social, cultural and political issues in the course of her art research and paintings. After earning her bachelor's degree at the Faculty of Arts at the University of Jordan, she was granted a Fulbright scholarship for her master's degree in the United States, where she spent one year. She now lives in her hometown of Amman, where she teaches painting and also works as a designer in film production. She says painting on its own does not earn her enough to make a living, so film production became her primary source of income. She designs and creates film sets.
She uses her work to convey messages regarding women, identity, memory and culture. “I do not know if my work can change anything, but a change is necessary, both in Jordanian laws as well as in society and culture. My art is urgent and it is political. I am a political artist — although I do not like that definition, but I am.”
Women activists are lobbying to get Article 308 revoked, an issue at the top of their agenda.
Abdelnur asserts that this article should be eliminated, but she says that painting the women and what symbolically dress them “represents law and politics, culture and family limiting her, standing against her, but it is placed on her skin as a dress and a feeling. I also use patterns derived from traditional textiles. The beauty of the textiles does not only lie in its bright colors and intricate details. It also has to do with her enduring tradition where the mother teaches her soon-to-be-wed daughter the art of embroidery and weaving to complete her trousseau.”
Abdelnur’s exhibition is the second in her “Woman” series to be featured by Artisana & Gallery 14 in Amman. The Art Gallery and Center for Jordan Arts and Crafts hosted a public debate in Rand’s exhibition space as part of a campaign against gender-based violence in Jordan. Abdelnur’s paintings stood between Rula al-Farra al-Hroob, a member of parliament and supporter of the campaign, and Asma Khader, a lawyer and human rights activist, the president of the Sisterhood is a Global Institute/Jordan and a former minister of culture spokesperson. Abdelnur was pleased, as she had hoped to convey a message and create a debate.
She said, “It is pretentious to think that my own work is empowering … But I like to create further opportunities for debate through my art, especially because people do not know, and they need to imagine this pain.”