My Heart's Desires
This piece is an exploration of my identity as a Muslim American female. It is an abstract surrealist portrait painting featuring a Muslim woman. She holds her heart out (literally and symbolically), and the arteries/veins extend to the entryway wall and transform into vines. Behind the woman is a vast desert. Each of these elements collectively represent intersectional identity, displacement, and feminine energy.
The scholarly inspiration for this piece was derived from the recent assignment for Cutting Edge research, which included a multitude of articles about the main theme: Gendered Power Differential. Sub-themes within this research included redefining the very framework of women and gender, narratives of power and domination, identity, language, objectification, leadership, motherhood, and feminism. I attempted to pull in these themes within my painting through the elements depicted. Albeit the articles were informative and contained well-written analyses that conveyed different aspects of gender, particularly women, I felt that something was missing. The vast majority of these articles were from a Western perspective. As a Muslim American daughter of immigrants, my view of feminism is different from a Western woman’s. And so, I created this piece to respond to this void, and hopefully fill it with my own insights.
The Muslim woman in the painting isn’t me per say, but rather a representation of my values. She is covered to display modesty and reject objectification. Her existence is not meant to cater to the male gaze. There is power in this, as it reinforces a woman’s identity as a believer of Allah. The heart in this painting further reinforces the notion of power. They say that the greatest enemy is within. Conquering your heart’s desires and fears requires mastery of the ego. These two components are forever cyclically interrelated. The arteries extend, transforming into vines. In Islam, it is firmly believed that heaven lies at the feet of the mothers. This represents feminine energy, as women are bringers of life. The desert in the background represents displacement. My father’s lineage traces to the Sahara Desert in the south of Morocco. Most of my extended family lives in Morocco today, and I visit often in the summers. The benefit of being Moroccan-American, of having two nationalities, is that I get to have access to both places and partake in both cultures. The drawback is that I never fully belong in either. West and East cultures live inside of me, each dictating its own perspective of how a woman should be. Through art, I reclaim my agency. I convey my conscience onto the blank canvas and create a relationship with an audience and allow them to interpret what they see. While the painting conveys origins and practices of power through gender, there is power in this process of art-making as well.