Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 20 October 2020

'Libya has lost one of its great artists': Tributes are paid to photographer Arwa Abouon who died aged 38

The artist died at her Canadian home on Tuesday

The Libyan-Canadian artist Arwa Abouon died at the age of 38 on Tuesday, June 9, in Montreal, where she lived. The cause of death has not yet been announced.

Abouon and her family emigrated from Libya in 1983, settling in Canada while her extended relatives remained in Africa.

Arwa was a deep thinker, a spiritual soul and a humbled human being

Najlaa Elageli, Noon Arts Project

Much of the photographer's work was inspired by splits in her identity: being a Muslim Canadian, an emigre whose family straddled two continents, and even an Amazigh (or Berber) Libyan.

Look through the photo gallery above to see more of her work.

Abouon earned an BFA from Concordia University, and her photographs were often autobiographical, dramatising her Western and Muslim identity. This sense of duality was often suggested by her use of diptychs, particularly ones in which images were the reverse of each other.

I’m Sorry / I Forgive You (2012) shows the artist’s mother and father in contrasting black-and-white patterns, each making a gesture of forgiveness to the other.

The diptych Mirror Mirror Allah Allah (2012) is a double self portrait. One image shows her wearing black jeans and a top, and in the second image she wears a white hijab. In both, a mirror reflects her other self back to her.

Abouon was aware of the role she played in bridging the two cultures.

“Because I’m also Canadian, I’m aware that my portraits of Muslims or portrayal of Islam are often different than mainstream or media depictions found here," she said in an interview in 2016 with the now-defunct African magazine IAM. "I hope that my work helps build bridges and demystify things. You can see from my family portraits that we’re just a regular family!”

'A deep thinker'

Fans took to social media to pay tribute to the artist.

Najlaa Elageli, from Noon Arts Project, shared a touching post on Instagram alongside images of the artist and her work.

"She was as pure as can be. Her art was her her life and saviour," she wrote in a caption, adding that she had worked with the artist numerous times over the years.

"Arwa was a deep thinker, a spiritual soul and a humbled human being. Her passion for peace and serenity lit out of her being. Rose Issa considered her to be one of the most important contemporary female artists to come out of the Mena region and rightly so."

"Libya has lost one of its best contemporary artists," Libyan conceptual artist Tewa Barnosa wrote on Twitter.

Arab photography publication Tribe Magazine also paid tribute, saying: "Thank you for allowing us to witness & engage with beautiful and humbling work, Arwa."

"Libya has lost one of its great artists," added culture platform Reconnecting Arts.

Updated: June 12, 2020 01:06 AM

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