“Me and most women I know have mixed feelings about our breasts”, says Syrian-born UAE-based 31-year-old artist Malda Smadi. With the “Free the Nipple” campaign having grown into a huge movement and phenomenon in the West as a call to action for female empowerment, in the Arab world, speaking about women’s bodies and sexuality is still pretty taboo. But with her colourful busty sculptures, Smadi is ready to kickstart the conversation.
“We’re either strictly sexualising them or judging them as unattractive”, says Smadi referring to female breasts and how they are perceived in the region. What started as a sculpting exercise soon became an intimate series that explores the female body. “What I was trying to do all along was to normalize nudity, to stop fearing our boobs or being ashamed of them. And I felt like there was a small liberation movement happening in my circle”, she says discussing how her friends have managed to reclaim ownership of their bodies by participating in the project.
The experience has almost felt like a therapeutic illumination for Smadi and her friends, who, by posing topless, have felt like for the first time they unequivocally broke free from the confines of male gaze and fantasy. By representing different variations of the female body and normalizing nudity, Smadi hopes to see the new generation of women liberate from the prism of patriarchal control and embrace self-acceptance. “We’re removing the shackles”, she says.