Yante Ismail’s artwork brings attention to human rights issues – and most of them celebrate modern femininity. Having been painting professionally for over a decade now, Yante is also a humanitarian worker who is a strong advocate for social justice, and that conviction shines through in her art and creative process.
Yante’s subjects are often female nude figures in abstraction, effectively conveying the raw beauty of nude women as fluid beings rather than sexual objects. The humanitarian artist’s lively brushstrokes evoke women in control of their body, reclaiming the female form from a history of perpetuate sexual ideals. As a feminist artist, Yante seeks to normalise the values of feminism, using art as a platform to challenge the institutional misogyny that is driven by patriarchy.
HOW DOES ART AFFECT CULTURE AND SOCIETY?
Social change can happen when people feel moved because of a powerful stimulus. Creating that change requires a change of beliefs, values, and patterns of behaviour. Activism and awareness can change laws and policies, so that you have foundations that and more just and structures that are more equitable. However, genuine change happens at a deeper level. You may have in place laws regarding sexual and gender- based violence, but laws alone cannot change the patriarchal belief that has been embedded in our society. To change the world, we have to imagine what a changed world looks like. And what better way to imagine than using art?
YOU SPENT NEARLY TWO MONTHS WORKING IN THE CAMPS OF COX’S BAZAR IN BANGLADESH, HOW DID THE EXPERIENCE SHAPE YOUR WORLDVIEW?
The experience of being immersed in a refugee camp had a profound impact on the way I approach issues concerning women in a displaced situation. During that period, I completed three pieces of artwork inspired by women that I’ve met at the camp. I was particularly interested in stories of strength and survival, not only in a situation of exile, but also in a situation of patriarchy.
Look, a million people has been displaced in Myanmar and were forced to flee. Even in a situation of exile, the women of Myanmar are still confined and controlled by patriarchy. For instance, I remember seeing women who were not allowed to fetch water until dark, because men were not allowed to look at women. As a result, women were putting their lives at risk to walk miles to fetch water in the dark. The reason for it is simply because in their culture, women need to be shrouded, and these norms are putting lives at risk especially in a situation of exile. I was seeing a lot of that, and it was very insightful for me.
YOU MENTIONED IN AN INTERVIEW THAT YOUR COMMITMENT TO HUMAN RIGHTS FUELS YOUR ARTISTIC INSPIRATION. COULD YOU ELABORATE?
My humanitarian work and my artwork strengthen each other. There is a symbiosis between the two. Because I work in human rights, it gives authenticity and weight to the kind of art that I produce. As a result, those two parts of my world are constantly feeding into one another. My art is inspired by the kind of things that I experienced. At the same time, my humanitarian work has been undoubtedly enriched by my creative side.