The Artworks of Amal al-Aathem: When Female is Manifested in the Mirror of an Artwork
For al-Aathem, art and dealing with it, is not a luxury. It is rather, an entire life formed inside her imagination to become a fundamental part of herbeing an Arab woman preoccupied with big dreams; the dreams of explicit talks and ecstasy in the context of the Arab cultural act, namely in the Arab Gulf region. This situation challenged al-Aathemto demonstrate a special kind of determination. She had to put her aspirations regarding the components of Arab creativity through a variety of contributions that covered more than one form of art, such as video art, painting, graphics and installation. Nevertheless, we find al-Aathemmoreleaning towards the framed picture that face the public at all times. Here, the artwork produces its own history through the accumulation of viewing it again and again where it is displayed.
Al_Aathem entered the world of video art to express feelings swirling inside her as a woman always dreaming of personal liberty. She is quite devoted to her experience with painting as a core basis to her entire art experience. Painting has offeredal-Aathem important worlds by allowing her to express basic elements in life, such as place, the human being, in addition to all that make the human life.
The aesthetic environment surrounded al-Aathem offered her an exceptional opportunity to immerse into adventure in more than one field. We can see that in human figures scattered in her artworks. In these figures we clearly see her emphasis on the symbol of theibaya; theblack gown the Gulf women usually wear. These figures in their Ibayas are elements that denote certain social and aesthetic meanings. The Ibaya transmits thesuppressed dreams for those who wear it, because it is the cover that obscure the idea of the body. Al-Aathem message seems to say: as if exploring the aesthetics of the body is a taboo. We find this discourse in a critical form in her works functioning as a social disguise and as a subject matter that she addresses in a peaceful language;the language of painting and installation.
On the other hand, we find that al-Aathem has given an important value to human presence in the atmosphere of places and abstracted buildings where her work represents the human movement as it changes in time and space. I believe that the social environment with all its complexity has given a-Aathem a suitable atmosphere to pose her questions on issues that she seems so concerned about. Al-Aathem works wiped out the ashes to pose through her artworks the questions that are not allowed to be asked and that manifest a knowledge revolution in committing the act of living in the deeper and broader sense. In other words, the mirror that reflected and exposed what is inside the ibaya represents what the Arab woman are thinking. It is a mirror that make the one who is looking at it confronts his own self inside the black ibaya. Also these works show a strong association between the darkness of the sea in her videos and the blackness of the ibayawhere darkness follows the Arab woman, engulfs her thoughts, and keeps her moaning constantly entrapped within.
The Mirror of the Artwork vs. the Self’s Baggage
With regard to al-Aathem’spaintings we find her addressing the same subject matter using artwork tools; tools that are different from installation and video art. Nevertheless, al-Aathem remains addressing the same subject matter that seems to be an intense concern for her. The artwork shifts from the noble media of oils, acrylics, and pens to stitching on the canvas itself. This shift triggers a number of probes. In her paintings we find her showing the enigmatic crowds of women with no features and who are wrapped in ibayas. These ibayas are depicted with folds through her brush movements with bold lines and strong brush strokes. I believe these folds are used to avoid explicitly showing women in the artwork. We also notice that women move in groups which may symbolizes some kind of offering a protection to the idea. We also notice that most women in the paintings are idle and act less. They interact in intense silence with the half open and half closed signs of places and we find them most of the time outside these places. It is an interchangeable acts with dialectical effect that leads us to examine the female act in the position of stagnation.
This act that is besieged by the culture of male dominanceexercised in these societies is reflected in these bodies that change into signs that gather at the center of the artwork. In some other instances we find that al-Aathemconductsin her artworks a strong abrupt movement, as if it is an act of rebellion. That appears in some of her artworks, especially in the sequence of movements of a woman trying to stand up. It is quite strange that al-Athems’s artworks shows no male figures at all which seems to manifest her refusal of the harsh act of the male dominance culture that ruled Arab history until today.
It is also notable that the brush movement are primarily vertical whereas horizontal movements are minimalwhich seems to reflect the artists thinking regarding the picture surface. al-Aathem’ color movement clusters around the ascending and descending areas which suits the vertical figures of humans.This style is what have made the unique character of al-Aathem as an artist, especially concerning her artworks structure, the treatment of the human figure, and the composition. Al-Aathem went in this path for a long time to ensure herself a place among remarkable Arab artists using this style. She found her nichethrough color values, graceful lines, and strong composition.
In her quest to develop her medium al-Aathem started to mix between the pallet and stitching fabrics on the picture surface, an interesting move in which areas of color are altered with fabrics. The artist invests considerable time in finding the type of fabrics that fits into her artworks after stitching it on the surface with very clear stitches. Here the needle worked hand in hand with the brush. Here, the stitched thread added value to the artwork; a value of the woman who used to tailor and stitch her clothes and the contemporary aesthetic act. So, does al-Aathem wants to stitch her clothes through her artworks and make both acts an inseparable act? In other words, who wore the other: the artist or the artwork? Such questions triggers in our minds the possibility of molding the traditional tailoring of clothes to becoming an aesthetic element in the context of the contemporary artwork. In my view this endeavor makes a qualitative addition in the artist’s way of thinking. Al-Aathem has truly succeeded in finding intelligent solutions in the interplay of stitched fabric and the act of painting that have all blended harmoniously in the mix of fabric collage and colors.