Illustration by Tom Abi Samra

The Womanhood Project

A report on the Womanhood Project and its exploration of what it means to be a woman.

The Womanhood Project, an art exhibition opened to the public on Oct. 30, boasts contributions from 22 NYU Abu Dhabi students, all of which explore the theme of womanhood and its meaning to the artists themselves. The project aims to give female students a platform through which they can express their experiences as women. The Cube in the NYUAD Arts Center now houses the project’s art pieces, which range from photography to sculpture to audio.
The project first started in the fall 2017 semester as an expansion of an assignment taken on by Nada Hatem, Class of 2021, which exposed her to the ways in which several women experienced their transition to womanhood.
“Their responses were amazing that I was thinking; I wish there was a way in which I could present these responses to the world in a more engaging and interesting way that would do their stories justice,” said Hatem.
From this experience, Hatem created a space in the spring 2018 semester for students to explore and express what womanhood meant to them — the first Womanhood Project. The event took place in one of the residential lounges and, while the event was closed off to the general public, it allowed artists to work without significant censorship.
The movement of Hatem’s collaborative project to The Cube in the NYUAD Arts Center provided a learning experience for Hatem and her co-curators. Hatem explained that she had never curated an exhibition before and was happy to have learned so much through the experience. Hatem felt the move was necessary to further express the female experience in a country like the UAE.
“I’ve lived in the UAE my whole life … sort of just gauging from the experiences of Arab women, I felt that the narrative of women by women was not really public. It’s still not public and I only ever get to hear stories about what women achieved through the woman in personal, private scenarios. It’s not really public settings. And while it’s getting better and you see women leaders and politicians standing up … it’s still not something that I [can] ask a little girl right now. Can you name someone who’s a woman who has accomplished something?” said Hatem of her experience.
The art pieces all express different parts of the female experience. Some of the pieces are political and others contain content that require a mature content warning to be posted on the outside of the exhibition. The Womanhood work, created by Lubnah Ansari, Class of 2021, is a piece which engages the visitor through the use of mirrors, which are embedded in the work. Emily Broad, Class of 2022, contributed a series of photographs and Vivi Zhu, also Class of 2022, created a sculptural piece portraying the different forms that a woman’s body can have. Zhu created her piece drawing from her own experience.
“I did a sculpture of different versions of boobs. Since I was a kid there was a lot of social pressure on me for my body shape. I got inspiration from [how] everyone can be different and everyone is beautiful in their own way,” said Zhu. She also collaborates on a podcast called Vagina Talks where she expresses her experience with womanhood.
Maitha Alsuwaidi, Class of 2021, performed during the opening night of the exhibition. Her poem, titled Nada, was dedicated to her mother and all the sacrifices she has made. “I was just happy that I got to contribute my own identity,” said Alsuwaidi. Alsuwaidi was inspired to participate in this year's Womanhood Project after attending last years project.
“It felt so raw, so genuine. And I really loved it,” said Alsuwaidi of her first experience with the Womanhood Project.
The project continues to grow year after year, expanding to include a broader range of expressions on the topic of womanhood. Hatem plans to develop a print issue of the project, which she hopes will become a regular feature published each semester that expands the platform for people to share their experience of being a woman.
Mari Velasquez-Soler is Deputy News Editor and Tracy Vavrova is News Editor. Email them at
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