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The Arab Mona Lisa

The UAE celebrates the unveiling of "The Arab Mona Lisa" and much like the original, Dalia Awad isn't too pleased.

There’s no doubt that with the Arab Spring came an explosion of culture and art across the region. Some of the results are good. Some of the results are bad. Some make you choke on your morning coffee, which you didn’t even have, since you’re obviously a pious, observing Muslim and it is Ramadan after all. Say hello to the Arab Mona Lisa.

Yes, it’s real and no, we didn’t coin the phrase Arab Mona Lisa – that’s actually what they’re calling it. Now, let’s set aside the flagrant bootlegging of a priceless, iconic work of art (Leonardo is probably turning in his grave), and let’s even disregard the fact that a black scarf on a sad woman does not an Arab Mona Lisa make. I’m even going to overlook the fact that she doesn’t have nearly enough kohl or gold jewellery on to be an Arab anything.

What’s really getting under my skin is the fact that the UAE – the place where this artistic atrocity was conceived and currently hangs, creepily on the walls of Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Towers – is celebrating, nay, heralding the piece by Dr. Samar Al Shamsi as, and I quote, “represent[ing] the challenges of globalisation in realistic, abstract and surreal art forms.” Does the UAE know what a challenge is? If there’s country that is the complete opposite of being ‘challenged’ by globalisation it’s the Emirates. Rather than embracing their own rich culture, the UAE prefers to attract and adopt others, and this da Vinci rip off is the icing on the cake, filled with western superiority. Moreover, if there’s any piece of art that’s the complete opposite of ‘abstract and surreal’, it’s this one. I can’t be the only one that sees the painting as a picture perfect self-portrait of the artist herself, looking back at her awkwardly as if to say, “You did this to us."

And what did Dr. Al Shamsi say back? “As an Emirati artist that has exhibited all over the world, I am continuously striving to push the limits in my own work and to encourage other Arab artists to do the same.” Come on Samar, you should know better than that. What limits exactly did you push here? Apart from copyright laws, no other boundary has been broken. Except perhaps that no woman in history has dared compare herself to the legendary lady. Now I’m no art expert, but this makes me want to put my hands to my face and shriek in despair. Just call me the Arab Scream.