Sep 24th 2022

LATIFA ALAJLAN: Under my skin

@ FLXST Contemporary

2251 S Michigan Ave., Suite 220, Chicago, IL 60616

Opening Saturday, September 24th, from 4PM - 7PM

On view through Sunday, November 6th

EXHIBITION STATEMENT by Lisa Wainwright, Ph.D. [PDF]
“From the Desert Dunes to the Motor Row District: FLXST Contemporary Proudly Introduces Latifa Alajlan to the Art World” [via FLXSTNow]

Director Statement

Under my skin features new paintings and works on paper by Latifa Alajlan. The linen surfaces of each painting are layered with oil (fresh and dried-up peels), graphite, acrylic, and other media. She uses her whole body at times to mark her canvases. Under my skin surfaces the artist’s deeply seated convictions of social and cultural change in Kuwait and the Middle East writ large. The gestural abstractions in her paintings speak to the work of women in the New York School like Joan Mitchel & Lynne Drexler, and others. These female abstract painters confronted the male-centrism in American abstract art of that era. The subject of challenging the patriarchy is also present in Under my skin, though, within a Middle Eastern context. We could argue the stakes were and continue to be higher for Arab woman artists whose works challenge gender constraints found in the different cultures in countries of the Middle East. It seems apt then to locate the artist’s work not only within a Western-centric art canon, but a Middle Eastern one too—a canon in which Arab women shattered traditions, and employed techniques, motifs, and other idiosyncratic gendered visual languages in their work.

Looking, momentarily, away from the Western canon, we can then see traces of pioneering Arab women like Hayv Kahraman (Iraq), Yyette Achkar (Lebanon), Asama Fayoumi (Jordan), Malika Agueznay (Morocco), Huegette Caland (Lebanon), Saloua Raouda Choucair (Lebanon) and more, who paved the way for Latifa and other young Arab female artists. From her use of repeating Islamic iconography reminiscent of facades to her use of a variety of media to create rich textures, we find narratives that expose and challenge. The exposed linen canvas moves us to eroding textures and fading silhouettes, symbolic of the weathering of tradition. Shocks of color emerge, however, and they remind us that with change, renewal arrives.


In Arabic, “Latifa or Lateefa” is a feminine Arabic (طیفٓةِٓل) given name, which means “gentle” or “pleasant.” Alajlan is a Kuwaiti visual artist and activist, currently studying Fine Arts (MFA) at the School of The Art Institute of Chicago. Most of her work is inspired by her native culture, surroundings, and reality; aiming to  facilitate a conversation between the conservative and the liberal with a focus on women empowerment.  Her work provokes our understanding of spirituality, sensuality, and order. Latifa Alajlan has a keen interest  in the developments of artistic practices taking place in Kuwait and hopes to engage and contribute to its  community.

As a Kuwaiti woman artist, Latifa Alajlan has always felt compelled to make work in response to the current social and political issues of the Middle East. She does so through abstraction. Alajlan uses gestural abstraction to communicate what her body, and more symbolically, what other women’s bodies, actively go through as they cope with their identity and their expected compliance with certain societal and religious norms in her native Kuwait and across the Middle Eastern region.

Latifa Alajlan draws with paint and graphite on top of linen, and then adds thick layers of stenciled patterns from the ornaments of mosques in Kuwait. The earthy materials used in her paintings are standard building materials and hearken back to the building of mosques and historical sites that symbolize the formidable patriarchy imposed by religious clerics. Using her hands and body, the sensual strokes and textures of her mark-making invoke the intimacy of the artist’s nature. Her artistic practice affords Latifa Alajlan ownership of her flesh in defiance of patriarchal control.

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