Written by Lizzy Vartanian Collier
Copy Edited by Eliza Marks
Photographed by Jan Liet
You may be familiar with the phrase “inti bint.” For those who aren’t, it literally means “you’re a girl” in Arabic, and is generally said to girls and women in a derogatory tone as a way of explaining that they can’t do something. Why? Because they are female. Many have heard but ignored it, but one London-based Yemeni artist and musician decided to do something about it. Uploading images that make women the stars, squashing stereotypes and allowing them to speak, intibint turned the phrase from something negative to positive. When you see the moniker intibint online, you’ll probably be surprised (and impressed) by what you see.
intibint began drawing at a young age but never thought much of it, just doodling to pass the time. She began posting her work on Instagram to raise money for Yemen, but the more she did, the more she loved it. Posting changed from a hobby to a major part of her life, and her Instagram feed that mixes art, music, and snippets of her everyday has become hugely popular. “It’s been mostly positive and supportive which is so amazing to see,” she explained, and added, “I get the odd ‘what about men’ comment under some of my more feminist posts, but there’s always going to be that one guy right?”
She explained that she hopes to subvert the term, “inti bint” using it as an alias online. “There’s such a long way to go before we get to a point where women stop getting told there is a gender barrier, which it definitely isn’t,” she explained. She cited examples of women doing wonderful things, like Yemeni lawyer Huda Al-Sarari who exposed the prisons run by external governments in Yemen. “I’m proud to know of her and to see her as a role model,” she said. “It’s complete madness that girls from a young age are told that they must step aside because of their gender.”
Notable works on intibint’s feed are those within her “Banat Alshare3” series, meaning “girls on the street.” In these colourful drawings, women are illustrated on the street with texts that read, “I’m free,” while other images depict nude women sitting on top of traditionally Yemeni buildings alongside captions that read, “you can’t take what’s mine.”
“It’s difficult to talk about in depth because I don’t want to fall too much into this ‘oppressed brown girl’ category… Muslim women of colour are pushed into categories when entering the creative field.”
With works that display partially nude women and text that reads, “God is great, the choice is in her hands, equality is her right, the renaissance is in her hands, victory for women,” does intibint ever worry about how people might respond? “Yes and no,” she said. “My work speaks about feminism but it’s not only directed at women, and my aim isn’t to speak about women’s bodies rather to speak about women themselves. My aim has always been to use art to bring women and women’s issues to the centre, and of course sometimes I have worried that my intentions are misconstrued, but I think that’s bound to happen. Everyone is entitled to an opinion and not everyone will see things as I do, and that’s fine! In fact, it’s good, it gets the conversation going and in a way that’s kind of the point.”
But perhaps intibint’s most striking works are those that comment on Yemen, her relationship to it, and the situation regarding the war that has been taking place there since 2015. Her illustrations include images of children asking their mothers if they’ll die at school that day, which are heartbreaking, to put it lightly. “It’s been very difficult to watch the war in Yemen unfold as a member of the diaspora community,” she explained. “At times, it was comforting to be able to express that whilst also raising awareness of the atrocities that are taking place back home.” In fact, the clothing that intibint produces and sells online – which is covered in her artwork – have been made to raise funds to both support Yemen, and also as a means to spread the word about what is happening through clothes.
On top of her incredibly powerful artwork, intibint is also making music. She always loved to sing, but as she got older she decided to focus on other things, from photography, to volunteering with refugees. Following completion of her Masters degree in Migration and Development from London’s School of Oriental and African Studies however, she had more time to delve into her other interests, and began to really focus on music. “To be honest, it has been quite scary to come out with music as a Yemeni woman because of the stigma around it,” she said. “It’s difficult to talk about in depth because I don’t want to fall too much into this ‘oppressed brown girl’ category… Muslim women of colour are pushed into categories when entering the creative field.”
Reflecting on her own experiences, intibint said, “There are many stereotypes surrounding being a Muslim woman, and Islam in general, for example in terms of being perceived to be oppressive to women and a lot of the time our struggles are viewed as being uniquely tied to the fact that we are Muslim or of an Arab or Asian background, when actually there are a myriad of issues that Muslim women face that caused by the patriarchal structures imposed by white men.” Her debut single, “Myself”, was released on Valentine’s Day in 2019 and talks about loving yourself instead of a romantic partner, but it could also be understood as a statement about loving yourself when the world has so many preconceived notions of what defines an Arab, Muslim woman, an identity that is definitely not a “one-size-fits-all.”
And, what about her audience? “I mean I don’t discriminate when it comes to audience,” she explained, “but I do hope that I can speak to women of all ages and background, but there’s not doubt that I always hope my work can be at least a tiny bit of inspiration for Yemeni women both in the diaspora and back home.” In the near future, intibint plans to release her first EP, she’s still in the writing stages, but there’s definitely more coming.
So, what’s next for intibint? She has just graduated and is working on multiple projects. “I’m so ready to focus more on creating art, music and inshallah a new collection to support charity projects in Yemen,” she said. And this bint, will she ever grow into “inti mara’ah”? (Mara’ah is the Arabic word for woman) “Good question! I mean this bint has definitely evolved and grown into, and inshallah will continue to grow into better versions of a mara’ah, but the answer is no.” She explained, “My moniker has always been intibint and I feel like changing it would be wrong to the person in me that started intibint to begin with.”