To the majority, NFTs are an investment, a ticket to becoming part of a certain community, or a medium through which one can show off their limited-edition digital assets. Yet for artists, NFTs are a powerful tool, one which offers freedom from censorship, complete autonomy, and true independence.
In an exclusive interview, Shurooq Amin, an artist from Kuwait, told DailyCoin about her battles as a woman artist in an Arabian country, and how NFTs helped her to liberate her artwork and achieve sovereignty in a society where men dominate, and women are discriminated against.
“My reason for being part of the NFT community is the freedom from censorship it offers. For me, an artist, the ultimate thing about Web 3.0 is autonomy. No one can censor me,”
Amin told DailyCoin.
Amin has been a traditional multidisciplinary artist for the last 30 years – producing acrylic paintings, art installations, and video art. At 40 years old, pregnant with her fourth child, Amin decided to divorce her husband, which is a shocking and unacceptable decision in Kuwait’s patriarchal society.
“As Arab Muslim girls, we go from our family’s home to our husband’s home, and we're dependent on men for everything. I wanted to break free from that.”
She then struggled to find anyone willing to let rent her an apartment or give her a loan – all doors were closed to a divorced single mother.
“It was almost like living in the dark ages, almost like I had gone back 200, 300, 500 years. It was unbelievable. I got so angry, and frustrated that I expressed everything I was seeing around me on canvas,”
the artist explained.
She created a physical art exposition in Kuwait, which focused on the moral hypocrisy of Arab Muslim society. Just three hours after the opening of the exhibition, the Secret Service arrived to shut it down, removing paintings from the walls, and tailing Amin for several months, placing her under investigation. She soon found herself blacklisted by the government, and her work banned in Kuwait. Fortunately, the artist was discovered by a gallery abroad which started displaying her work outside of her native country.
Amin quickly made a name for herself, becoming the first Kuwaiti artist to be invited to the ‘Venice Biennale‘ and to have her artwork auctioned at the historical Christie’s Auction House. After receiving many accolades across her years of work abroad, Amin was invited back to Kuwait in January 2020.
During the same month that the artist returned to her home country, she held a large exhibition; just as before, the police arrived with the Secret Service Ministry of Information, tearing down all of her work. It became a scandal, publicized through all of Kuwait’s media outlets.
Art to Expose Hypocritical Societal Norms
Amin created the poignant collections ‘Society Girls,’ ’It’s a Man’s World,’ and ‘Popcornographics.’ Her art criticizes traditional and religious morals, condemning a society in which a woman must be a virgin before marriage (even if she is 40-50 years old), while men, who can have sex with as many partners as they want, are completely precluded from fault. Her art exposes the corruption in politics and talks about adultery, laying bare the hypocrisy of the religious mullahs (religious leaders), as they preach about Islam, but get caught drinking and partying with prostitutes in Cancun.
“It’s okay for a man to have mistresses, but if a woman is caught having sex with another man, it's okay to kill her. We still have honor killings in 2022. ‘Article One’ in our constitution says that if a man finds out that his wife, daughter, mother, sister, cousin, or niece has slept with a man who is not her husband, he's allowed to kill her, and he will not go to jail [for doing so].”
Amin’s most popular work is ‘King of Hearts,’ which depicts a never-before depicted image of an Arab Muslim man kissing an Arab Muslim woman. In Islamic countries, it is illegal to show affection in public, and those who are caught kissing can easily end up in prison.
The image of a man in traditional Arabic dress kissing a woman is considered extremely brash and audacious, and the painting caused quite an uproar in Kuwait, subsequently being banned. Yet for all this, it is simply a beautiful image depicting love.
Amin’s newest collection called ‘They Wanted Camels, I Gave Them Camels’ is a sarcastic response to her haters and critics that have been constantly judged her work with questions such as: “Why is she doing this? Why is she painting these things about our culture? Why doesn’t she paint camels and beautiful deserts? Our beautiful culture? Why is she painting these messages? Why is she showing us in a bad light?”
The collection of camel skulls is a dark, dystopian, and ironic response to twist the frequent criticism. Amin uses bright colors, beautiful women, and aesthetically pleasing pictures to take the focus away from its harsh message.
Being a Female Artist in an Islamic Country
In Kuwait, art is perceived as a hobby, not a career path. In addition to this, Arab men have a much easier path in the art world, because they can freely leave the house and travel, not to mention that they simply have more opportunities. There’s still a double standard in the society – a patriarchy, where sadly only men are running the show.
“A lot of people have told me that if I was a man, who had painted such paintings and exposed such messages, I would not have been treated this way. I was treated this way because I was a woman who dared to go against them. But if I was a man, it would have been a different story,”
“No one is doing what I'm doing. I'm the only one that's not scared to do what I'm doing and put the work and the message out there and expose the hypocrisy. A lot of people misunderstand my motive. My motive is not that I hate my country, or I hate my religion. It's not that at all, it's quite the opposite. My motive is to open a dialogue, have people talk about issues, to fix the rot,”
Achieving Artistic Freedom Through NFTs
Shortly after Amin’s return to Kuwait, followed by the sudden closure of her second exhibition, COVID-19 reared its ugly head and shook the world in February 2020. The pandemic shifted the government’s attention away from Amin to the global health crisis, and investigations into her were postponed.
Thanks to the global lockdown, when everything went ‘online,’ Amin discovered NFTs. Throughout 2020, she researched, read about, and tried to understand the new technology, and, in early 2021, she began minting and listing her art.
“With NFTs, I can put my art out there where the government cannot capture, remove, censor, or ban it. The art is out of the government’s hands; Web 3.0 is bigger than them. So for me, NFTs were a breath of oxygen, a breath of fresh air, it was like: ‘wow, this is amazing, I can finally get my art out there with no censorship.’ I got into NFTs for freedom – to actually find freedom in my self-expression, in my art, in my message, to have my message uncensored.”
Many still believe that NFTs are a scam have no use, but people said the same thing about the internet when it first came out – no one believed in it. In the maligned artist’s words.
“People said the same thing about cryptocurrency when Bitcoin came out, and now look! Those who bought crypto a long time ago are very rich now. And people who invested in the internet a long time ago are also very rich now. It's not about the money, it’s simply about the fact that this is a natural evolution in technology. And because we, as creators, are really sick and tired and fed up with being censored and being told what to do. That's not art, that's not true creation, it's not even just about being a painter; whether you're a musician, a photographer, a dancer, a videographer, or a screenwriter, you will find your freedom in this space, because we were all going to end up in the metaverse. That’s a fact. It's just a matter of having the vision. Some artists have that vision, some don’t.”
Amin sells her NFTs on the OpenSea marketplace and has established a long-term partnership with the “Give Kuwait” platform — a gateway to internationally registered and verified charities around the world. The artist donates 50% of the money raised from her NFT sales to charity, choosing a different cause every month and providing a link so users can see what their money is going towards for full transparency.