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A New Exhibition pays tribute to "The Divas" of the Arab World

Photo: Kofler. Group portrait, members of the Feminist Union founded by Hoda Chaaraoui. Circa 1950. Beirut, Arab Image Foundation, Busseina Saleh Younes collection © The Arab Image Foundation

This winter, the Arab World Institute in Paris will unveil an exhibition featuring the most iconic Arab artists of the 20th century. Actresses and singers, these groundbreaking women enriched the collective mindsets of their time, and their legacies echo through cultural history today.

At the dawn of the 1920s, while Europe was experiencing its own golden years, capitals of the Arab world were also enjoying an era of vibrant aesthetic energy. "The Divas" were center stage. Icons of a generation characterized by cultural flourishing, they embodied a fresh image of womanhood: independent, beautiful, and powerful. Between 1940 and 1970, the voices of Oum Kalthoum, Warda al-Jazairia, Fayrouz, and Asmahan resonated through the streets of Cairo.

As for Cairo's legendary film scene, "Nilewood" and its hugely successful Egyptian musicals introduced audiences to actresses like Leila Mourad, Samia Gamal, Saba, Tahia Carioca, Hind Rostom and, of course, Dalida, who would become one of the most celebrated artists of the French music scene. Paroles, paroles, her famed duet with Alain Delon, still hums through France 50 years after its release. Their names may not be familiar to everyone, but each of these women left an everlasting impression on the 20th century Arab world. Creators and public figures during periods of major societal changes, their legacies interweave histories both personal and political. Still today, their work and their life stories offer endless inspiration to rising generations of emerging artists.

Feminists, trailblazers, figures of emancipation and empowerment, "The Divas" pushed for rights and for respect, all while giving their support to anti-colonial independence movements in their home countries. In sharing these inspirational stories, this exhibition pays them tribute.

"Divas. From Oum Kalthoum to Dalida," from January 27, 2021 to July 25, 2021 at the Arab World Institute.

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