Isabelle Noor is on a mission. A one that mean look like it’s just a drop in the ocean but one with a magnitude of changing lives at a whole new level. Her journey is about bringing the smile of a woman to the hearts, minds and spirits of one and all who care to be part of her life journey.
One 12th November 2016, this French artist exhibited the ‘Smile of a Woman’ exhibition at the Cartoon Art Gallery, Al Quoz. Opened by the French Consul General and the Director of Alliance Française, Bernard Frontero and curated by popular artist activist and curator, Zaahirah Zabeen Muthy, the exhibition attracted many fellow artists who were there to support Isabelle’s journey.
Sadly, as I was busy covering technical conferences on the other side of Dubai (a norm these days), I was unable to attend the exhibition but there was something about the exhibition photos that I saw floating around facebook that encouraged me to delve a bit more into what this was all about. Photos of women from different countries, but uniquely connected by the golden paints and decoration that Isabelle used over each photograph. It kind of reminded me of my childhood in Abu Dhabi, when my mother and I would attend various art classes at the cultural foundation in Abu Dhabi, next to the old fort and women from various nationalities came together for one common cause – to paint and learn together.
Isabelle is not new to the world of showcasing her work, several malls, hotels in Dubai have been home as her exhibitions. “I have also donated and supported various humanitarian causes there past ten years and her clients come from the USA, UAE, Spain, Chile and France.
An interview with Isabelle on email revealed a more powerful story. Isabelle described it as a journey where her sister was a partner in crime. She said: “It was my sister who took the numerous photos of women in Thailand, Burma, Indonesia and India, to name a few. She works with her beachwear shop for six months during the summer on the island of Ibiza while in winter, she heads to Asia for 3-6 months with her husband. The inspiration of the Smile of a Woman came from those photos and the rest, as they say, is history.”
What does the power of the smile mean to you?
IN: “People can relate to a smile that is a universal language that know no borders. In my opinion, each woman stands for nobility and my paintings seeks to embrace the secret language of unity. I deliberately chose to feature their faces in grey so magnify that sense of unity. True, we may be proud of our cultures that we come from, but we are still family. I wanted to echo the sentiment of unity through the smile, as a way to counter the endless violence that the world continues to see to this day. The only way forward is to live with forgiveness in our heart, compassion on our face as love defeats hate.”
How do you perceive yourself as an artist.?
IN: As an artist, I relentlessly have to speak out for all the inequality that I see happening on this earth. I am a profoundly loving person who cannot accept that our world will die in a bad state if we continue the way we do throughout the world. I am all for opening the hearts of people but this may not be able to do it directly or in a suddenly manner. That is why I use art as a perfect medium like the great masters in the past to convey strong messages that are only of course disclosed to those who are open to them, so that the quest becomes theirs too. My work will always be refer to serious subjects and I will continue to remind people that if we do not change our ways, our future generations will ask why our forefathers didn’t make a better choice? What answer shall we have for them?”
“My next collection focusses on the issue of global warming. I have already painted 15 paintings and working to create some more, so that the whole collection is ready in the next two years.”
And we look forward to seeing the collection as she strives to give back to society.
Now, a paragraph about the curator and owner of the ZeeArts Community, Zahirah Zabeen Muthy. I have known this talented artist for many years now, both in the capacity of an artist and an artist activist. To learn that she is now in the sphere of curating art exhibition was a new thing and I wanted to learn a bit more about why she curated this exhibition. This goes to prove that co-opetition instead of cooperation actually works together.
What prompted you to curate this body of work?
ZZM: “I knew Isabelle ever since she started working on this collection. I mentored her and encouraged her to move forward as she put a lot of effort into bringing her collection to life. I saw it boost in confidence and I noticed that not only did her work transform, the show even transformed her life.”
What does the life of a curator mean to you?
ZZM: “Curating is another great initiative for me, a great step in the right direction. I had curated my own exhibition back home in Mauritius and this time I felt called to do the same when I saw Isabelle’s beautiful collection of work. I wanted to curate her show in a way that people could connect to her strong message – which was the smile that shimmers through the eyes of each woman who looks at us from each painting of Isabelle’s. The actual curating process required that I pay attention to the light installations as well as the placement of each piece so that each viewer could engage whole-heartedly in the artwork. During the show, guests had the opportunity to walk around and capture the highlights of each artwork. This was a powerful experience for me and I hope to do more of this in the future.”
Was this a way to give back to the community?
ZZM: As an artist activist, it is my vision to connect artists to create community and celebrate arts. I always encourage artists to give back to the community. They have been blessed with such talent and by giving to the community, we receive a lot more in return. And living in a cosmopolitan city such as Dubai means art messages get communicated regularly and in more tangible manners.
Photos are taken by Manisha Gaur and Farah Khan, used with permission from Isabelle Noor and Co.