To stay on point, ignore hidden messages

Young Emirati artist Sheikha Alyazia Al Nahyan on concealed messages in art

A work by Sheikha Alyazia Nahyan Al Nahyan. Lee Hoagland / The National
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When mentioning certain movies or TV shows, I recall comments about a supposed hidden message. We were told to read between the lines for hidden ideas. Apparently, now secret meanings hide within the TV intervals and are to be monitored.

This notion of secrecy and hidden agendas, in some way reflects a know-it-all culture of fear and second guessing the media, as opposed to analysing the content and filtering the information in a positive way.

With the Oscars coming up, film titles will be debated and the storylines questioned. As audiences, our fear of deceit takes away the unique experience presented by a story. A famous old theme is that appearances are deceiving. This is evident in countless plays, such as Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, where the outward identity conflicts with the truth, causing confusion about what is real or not. But ultimately that was only a theme. Nowadays, it is used as a reason to reject the media.

A certain TV news audience comes to mind. They are accustomed to a certain narration style and subject matter. Therefore they will not watch anything else, perhaps out of fear of opening a door to opposing agendas. The same applies to the audience on the opposite side.

Having said that, there is some truth to this idea of concealed content in different aspects of media and art. Like the hidden letters – L and V – and numbers found in 2010 by art historians in the eyes of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. However, that only adds to its depth. Such hidden aspects train the mind to judge material while being constructively engaged in the process.

Extreme cases of ideas surrounding deceitful motives are quite widespread. There are secret society theorists, who enjoy finding symbols in the media instead of simply enjoying the show. Then there are the hidden motive fans. For them, it is too late if they see it and their goal is to stay as far from it as possible because it is an unknown, destructive idea.

This makes it more a matter of the way of thinking than the actual work.

These days at Anasy, our independent production company, we are working on a new documentary The Tainted Veil. The trailer was launched at Abu Dhabi Art last November.

During the post-production process, the team has been discussing the challenges of presenting something that may be misunderstood. Those who play up the hidden-motive idea can misuse it and erase it.

We have an interview with a well-known Syrian Islamic scholar, who was killed in 2013. He voices his thoughts about the hijab but since there are mixed opinions about him politically and religiously there is a slight risk of the film being stuck with the controversial label.

Although we are bound to reject something if there is a real reason for it, every work must be examined for what use it has to offer and say. The Arabs say: “We are a people who go by the outward only and leave the inward to God”.

That is a good sentiment but surely we must also judge things on their merit – after examining them in their entirety – and for what they have to offer, rather than just dismiss them out of hand for imagined reasons that revolve around hidden motives.

Alyazia bint Nahyan Al Nahyan is an Emirati artist and founder of Anasy Documentary Productions