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Halla's Got a Gun

Oil on canvas
30.1 x 22.8”(76.5 x 58 cm)

Although listening to music in Saudi Arabia before the 2030 vision was strictly prohibited, in private the majority of Saudi youth kept up to date with the latest Arabic and western songs. In my teens, my cousins and I followed MTV and the Billboard Hot 100 religiously. Aerosmith’s "Janie's Got a Gun" was about a taboo subject—and it strongly grabbed my attention. Janie’s act of self-defence would have been punishable by death in my country.

In January 1991, the allied forces had initiated an aerial and naval bombardment to force Saddam Hussain’s army out of Kuwait. Retaliation against Saudi Arabia was expected. Gasmasks were distributed but without instructions on when or how to use them. No one could tell if the threat would be airborne or come from the ground. But we knew that chemical weapons were part of Saddam’s arsenal. Would there be a threat coming from within the country, too? We were on full alert. So my father gave me one of his guns—a highly unusual demonstration of trust for a man to bestow onto his daughter. After a month had passed, I looked at myself in the mirror and laughed. I didn’t know how to use the gun any more than I knew how to use the gasmask.