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  • Jun 15, 2020

Artist Who Examines Cultural Duality Dies At 38

ARWA ABOUON was known for her photographs on

On June 9, Libyan-Canadian artist and photographer Arwa Abouon passed away in Montreal. The cause of her death was not disclosed; she was 38 years old.

Over the last 15 years, Abouon had exhibited regularly in exhibitions in Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and Montreal. Her work is in the collection of the Musée de L'Institut du Monde Arabe, in Paris, and several private collections.

Abouon studied design art at Montreal’s Concordia University, graduating in 2007. Born of Amazigh descent in Tripoli, Libya, her family immigrated to Canada when she was one year old. Much of her artistic practice addresses notions of plural identity. Inspired by her father who instilled a strong sense of family values in her, and frequently employing old photographs to teach herself about her Libyan heritage, Abouon often staged photographs in her narrative works.

This is seen in the diptych print I’m Sorry / I Forgive You (2012), where the artist’s parents, dressed in black and white geometric prints against a patterned background, are shown kissing each other’s forehead in gestures of forgiveness and romantic devotion. In Mirror Mirror, Allah Allah (2012), Abouon captured herself in contrasting outfits: one frame shows her in a black shirt and black trousers, facing an image of herself in a mirror donning a white hijab; the other depicts the reverse with her in white looking at an image of herself dressed in black. In both, the mirror portrays her dual cultural upbringing. As she stated on her website, her goal to inspire “a finer appreciation of the Islamic culture” centers around the culture’s poetic foundations, rather than the political issues often associated with it.

Abouon’s works have been exhibited globally, with one of her first major shows being the 2012 solo exhibition “Learning by Heart” at Dubai’s The Third Line gallery. In 2014, she explored the concept of heaven in “Honolulu (Here Are Pearls)” at Sultan Gallery in Sabhan, Kuwait; she dedicated the show to her father who died a year before. In 2015, she staged her first solo exhibition in the United Kingdom, “Birthmark Theory,” at the London Print Studio, bringing together some of her earlier photographs examining issues of identity, gender, spirituality, and humanity. Her aforementioned artwork Mirror Mirror, Allah Allah placed second at the 26th Alexandra Biennale for Mediterranean Countries in 2014.

The Third Line Gallery said in its announcement of Abouon's passing: "Arwa will always be remembered for her humble and spiritual soul through which she has touched many lives."

Ashlyn Chak is an editorial intern of ArtAsiaPacific.

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