Ghada Khunji: Checking In
The concept of the Coronavirus identified with the shores of Bahrain as early as January 2020. Soon after I was hoarding and stock piling on necessities like food, water, medicine etc. None of us had yet forecasted the pandemic that it was to become.
When the idea of being quarantined first came up I thought it would not affect me, for mostly I enjoy being home and having time to myself. It would be time to catch up on all the small and neglected things I wanted to do and time to make art. Basically, a time to focus on myself.
Soon I realized that it was reminiscent of the movie, The Shining, where Jack Nicholson portrays a writer with the chance to be away with his beloved family and stay at a magically magnificent resort hotel surrounded only by the calm of the wintery snow. All the time in the world to do nothing but focus on his writing. We all know how that ended up. The seclusion and void brought him to insanity. It’s a potent horror story of what too much inner reflection can do to a human.
Very quickly I became depressed. Missing the mere touch of a handshake or a friendly hug, confined and suffocated behind my mask. Once filled with ideas, I could not bring myself to make any sort of art, to even barely get myself out of bed. I doubted myself and felt that perhaps I would never come up with ideas again.
Yet somehow, I felt that with faith and time that things would go back to normal.
Then out of the blue I got the blessing that I so needed. Dongola Limited Editions offered me to be a part of a very special initiative… Cities Under Quarantine, The Mailbox Project. I was sent a special handmade book from Lebanon and had two months to produce a unique art book relating to our time in quarantine. Somehow it felt sacred. Suddenly trapped emotions, thoughts and ideas started to flow out of me again. It was such a brilliant idea of not just making a piece of art but conforming it to a special and personal book yearning for its pages to be filled and resonate with my DNA.
Wanting to make something timely and non-digital, I decided to use our daily Arabic newspaper, Akhbar AlKhaleej, that was graciously, almost insistently, sent to me every day by my dear brother. I realized that there was a wealth of art and typographical clippings, dated and ready to be reassembled into a collage.
Without yet visualizing what the final outcome would be, I painstakingly sat day by day and night by night cutting anything and everything that related to Corona. I knew that some kind of magic would come out of this repetitive insanity. This also revealed, brought into focus, how potent this virus was in the fact that it overwhelmed and overshadowed all other news.
I am a curious and tedious observer, so I looked up the origins of the word Corona.
With Ramadan approaching and the sight of our holy land, Mecca, void of people, and pilgrims not being allowed to worship there, the idea struck me…
This virus was, in a way, making us fast, abstaining us and depriving us from so many facets of life that we are accustomed to. I imagined the collected typographical texts of the word Corona in Arabic as the pilgrims performing Tawaf, the ritual of Muslims going around the Kaaba seven times. I arranged the words in a circular motif and all facing outwards, almost like a magnet repelling as opposed to bringing them together. I placed the Kaaba on a solar panel, and thanks to the power of the solar light, the sun, the Kaaba was rotating, instead of the pilgrims circumambulating. So, the opposite was occurring, which defies the essence of God.
OUR WORLD HAD REVERSED.
In Surah Noor, ayah 35, the Holy Qur’an it says: “Allah is the Light of the heavens and earth”. By placing a mini solar panel on the center of the spread, the sun’s power healed our world into its natural order.
With every negative there is a positive. I believe that with love and faith our world will be cured. Covid has been looming over us, creating dark shadows of doubt. I have learned not to over focus on it and rather return to the artwork I was previously working on.
This year I’ve produced two new FaRIDAs; a collection of photomontages inspired by the late Mexican artist, Frida Kahlo. She created the most intricate, honest and heartfelt paintings during the most devastating times in her life. She was bedridden for months and said that because of it and the isolation, that she was the subject she knew best.
It’s only befitting that I’m struggling to create my artistic vision during this horrible pandemic. The hundreds of layers I used to make my photomontages is quite therapeutic in its process. In its nature of repetition and inner focus, it allows my mind to calm itself.
This coming November, I’m thrilled and honored to be presenting a new work of art for an exhibition hosted by the Kingdom of Bahrain, celebrating the International Day of Islamic Art at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris. This time I am making a unique garment inspired by the wondrous date palm tree which is significant in Islam and many other religions.
They say that 20/20 is perfect vision. Is that a prophecy in itself?
I feel this pandemic has woken us up and hopefully enlightened us to what truly matters… not to take life for granted. While humans are being “caged in”, yearning for touch, and our smiles are forbidden by sight, nature is blossoming once again and the “birds & bees” are roaming freely.
It’s time for a rebirth.
Ghada Khunji (b.1967, Manama, Kingdom of Bahrain) is a graduate of the Parsons School of Design and the International Center of Photography's Documentary Program, both in New York. She started her career in the early nineties as a freelance photographer in the fashion industry in New York City, and spent two years as a research assistant for photo agencies, including Black Star and Magnum, followed by eight years as a printer and print manager for a high-profile clientele including Annie Leibovitz and Steven Meisel.
Khunji’s photographs are known for documenting both landscapes and people from all over the world and the inherent dignity of the human element. In her latest work, she
focuses the lens on herself by exploring her innermost feelings, thoughts and identity as a
woman. Khunji is the recipient of a significant number of awards, including the Lucie Discovery of the Year (dubbed, The Oscars of Photography), American Photo Magazine’s Image of the Year Award, as well as the Golden Lights Award for Travel. She has exhibited widely throughout the US, Europe and the Middle East.
She has participated in The Colombo Art Biennale which was held in Sri Lanka and also in Art Abu Dhabi. In 2018, she exhibited at Sotheby’s in London as part of CARAVAN’s group show inspired by Kahlil Gibran’s, The Prophet. She participated in CARAVAN’s two-year touring exhibition titled I AM, under the patronage of Queen Rania of Jordan, which debuted in Amman, and then was shown in London and throughout the US. She has also exhibited at The American University Museum (Katzen Arts Center) in Washington D.C. as part of a group show organized by Tribe photo magazine. In 2019 she participated in a group show Converse, contemporary artists from Bahrain in dialogue with the historic Albertina Collection in Turin, Italy. Also, in 2019 she exhibited in The Venice Biennial as a part of a group show, The Wait, and also exhibited at The Paris Biennale featuring artists from The Kingdom of Bahrain.
This coming November, she will be presenting a new work of art for an exhibition hosted by the Kingdom of Bahrain, celebrating the International Day of Islamic Art at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris.