Dimensions: 14 inches x 18 inches
Form: Painting on canvas
Art Technique: Oil color
Style: Realistic, slightly impressionist (visible strokes, nature, light etc.)
Stereotype being addressed: Oppression of Muslim Women (lack of freedom and desire for a peaceful life)
Artists & authors who have influenced my artwork:
Works by Jean Sasson have been the primary influence to my artwork. Particularly two of her books: Princess, and Daughters of Arabia, which reveal harsh living conditions and the oppression that women face. These texts describe the life of Princess Sultana Al Sa’ud of Saudi Arabia, where she lives life imprisoned (metaphorically), and oppressed. Jean Sasson describes her as a prisoner by the men in her life – her father and husband – where she is considered as worthless since she is a woman, and is used as a slave to their desires. Princess Sultana is stripped off basic human rights; the books also address other oppression-related issues such as young teenage girls being forcefully married off to much older men, and being killed by drowning, meeting death as a result of isolation, and other means. Jean Sasson’s description of women inspired me to create this artwork, as I began to ponder over this looming stereotype that all Islamic women are oppressed, and decided to deconstruct, analyze, and reconstruct this, addressing this probable misconception.
The painting is divided into two halves, where the left half represents how women in Islam are stereotypically viewed, as restricted and oppressed and seeking freedom, and a more peaceful life. On the contrary, the right half is my reconstruction narrative, which shows how I view women in Islam, that is, as living a peaceful and content life, free from oppression, as depicted by a surrounding of paradise.
Negative stereotype (left half):
This shows a women wearing a hijab sitting by a stream of water, on barren land, putting a glass bottle with a scroll inside into the water, symbolic of her hope and desire for what is written on the scroll to become her reality. Her wrists are chained together, symbolic of her restrictions and inability to get a grip on what she desires to live a happier, more peaceful life. Her eyes show sadness and her skin looks pale.
The woman is sitting amidst wilted trees, with the background as dark, gloomy, and negative, almost haunted, symbolic of her depressed state of mind and how she views her life. It is a reflection of her troubled state due to oppression she faces. This is also symbolic of how grave others think Muslim women’s lives are in terms of how little freedom they have and how oppressed they are.
The sky is filled with black birds, where each bird is actually written as a word, using patterned writing, representing her seemingly stale conditions i.e. “burdened”, “stuck” etc. This painting primarily uses an achromatic palette in order to evoke in viewers an emotion of sadness towards the women.
Positive stereotype / my interpretation of reality (right half):
This half depicts a continued image to the left half, but it shows a stark contrast in terms of the message portrayed, ambiance created and color palette used. The colors used here are bright and vibrant; the ambiance is serene, lush, and prosperous. Her surroundings depict paradise: lush landscaping, free-flowing water bodies and shade provided by olive trees. The sun is out, the sky is vibrant, and white doves (symbolic of peace) are perched on olive trees. These olive trees too are symbols of peace and are representative of Islamic women’s steadfastness both externally and within.
The woman’s skin is more alive, and her eyes show happiness. She is holding open the scroll that she has retrieved from the sea, with the bottle next to her, where the scroll shows a drawing of the olive tree – symbolic of peace and a desire for a better future. In this case, she is sitting next to a colorful olive tree, the same as the picture on the scroll, which epitomizes that she has her dreams fulfilled and has peace of mind, along with the freedom she desires. Her hands are not chained, they are free; she is free. This represents her reality, where she is not actually oppressed, and is content with her life.