LONDON—Deena Mohamed’s female Muslim superhero Qahera is seen as defying the norm—not because she has super strength or can fly, but because she does those things wearing a veil. Qahera is now a feminist icon for women in Egypt, but that wasn’t the intention when Mohamed, a 24-year old graphic artist, sketched her first adventures.
“People tend to assume my work represents all Egyptian women or that it represents the feminism of today,” she said during the opening session of Shubbak @ The British Library. “Really it just reflects a different point of view that is uniquely my own.”
Six years after creating the Qahera web comic, which has over 750,000 views, Mohamed is a little disheartened to find that a strong woman wearing a hijab still comes as a surprise. “It reinforces the stereotype,” she said in an interview.
Representation was a recurring theme at the event, held last Sunday, when novelists, poets, journalists, translators and graphic artists from across the Arab world gathered for a day of discussion on new works in the fields of feminism, queer writing, Kurdish fiction, and other forms of writing. The event formed the literary chapter of the biennial Shubbak Festival, which showcases contemporary Arab culture in theaters, concert halls, cinemas, art galleries, museums and outdoor venues across London.
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The theme for the fifth edition, questioning the norm, champions Arab artists who are probing established narratives and reimagining traditional definitions.
“We aim to shift the discourse about our complex relationship with the Arab world,” said Eckhard Thiemann, the festival’s artistic director. “The privilege of a festival is that we can offer a multiplicity of voices, different aesthetics, different opinions all in a short time. This combats a unilateral and simplistic reading of the many expressions of Arab artists.”