BY Oleksandra Osadcha POSTED 22th OF MAY 2018 17:00 GMT
Gender issues are one of the most topical subjects in the contemporary art, which comes as no surprise, since even today, in the 21st centuries, we still face the number of prejudices, connected with male/female gender roles. Traditionally, Muslim countries are perceived as the most conservative ones, with the patriarchal system making women the rightless ‘staffage.’ However, often Muslim political and religious thinkers attempt to prove this no more than a stereotype, and that Islam helped to improve the role of women in the local society. According to some documentary evidence, the Pre-Islamic time period was defined by the harsh attitude towards women: the female infanticide was a common practice; women of lower class had no rights to own the property and were generally treated more like the trophies in the tribal warfare or a part of one’s possessions. For instance, a woman could be ‘inherited’ by her husband’s son after his death (unless she’s the mother of that son).
Some of the followers of Islam try to demonstrate their religion encourages strong women. The first wife of Muhammad, Khadija, was a successful businesswoman, and it was her, who initiated the marriage and proposed to Muhammad (the thing which is rare even today). Muhammad’s third wife Aisha bint Abī Bakr led her troops in the Battle of the Camel; after the death of Muhammad, she was entitled al-Siddiqah ('the one who affirms the truth') and said to be the author of over 2000 hadiths - the record of the sayings of the Prophet. A widely-known quote by Muhammad reads, “You have certain rights over women but they have certain rights over you;” or his another beautiful saying, “They (your wives) are your garment and you are a garment for them.”
Gheorghe Virtosu is the artist, who is attracted to the challenging tasks. That is why he decided to work on the contradictory theme of woman in the Muslim society, representing it in the abstract painting series dedicated to Prophet Muhammad Daughters (listed from the elder to the younger one): Zainab bint Muhammad, Ruqayyah bint Muhammad, Umm Kulthum bint Muhammad and Fatimah bint Muhammad. Each of them had a very bright identity and a complicated life story, shaping up the female role model for the entire Islamic world.
|Ruqayyah bint Muhammad||Umm Kulthum bint Muhammad|
To paint all four Muhammad’s daughters, the artist has used the same abstract art composition with his signature expressive brushwork and biomorphic drawing. In that fusion of the smooth forms, one can easily recognize an angel-like, winged creature, which hints at the specific spiritual status of the personages. The fluidity of the lines evokes associations with the wittiness of Arabic calligraphy.
All canvases differ in the palette; it’s hard to tell, whether the choice of the colors was well-thought or unconscious, but somehow each of the tints symbolically represents the essence of the heroines. For instance, the abstract ‘portrait’ of Zainab has the predominant brownish shades. Brown is connected with the earth, stability, loyalty and inner strength: Zainab, the oldest daughter of the Prophet, had to part from her husband for several years since he refused to Islam, and she couldn’t betray the teaching of her father. The vibrant purple in Ruqayyah bint Muhammad piece directly refers to the etymology of her name: Ruqayyah derives from Arabic - “spell, charm, incantation.” And purple is believed to be the most mysterious, enigmatic color, creating the sense of the supernatural powers around itself. The background in the painting dedicated to Umm Kulthum is intensively blue - the symbol of calmness, hope, and reliability; Umm Kulthum bint Muhammad demonstrated amazingly mature attitude towards the hard times she had to go through together with her family when they were forced out of Makkah and moved to the valley of Abu Talib. They were isolated and starving for three years. After the death of Khadija, her mother’s, she took care of the household, and her younger sister, Fatimah, revealing the unbreakable spirit and faith. Finally, the color of the Fatimah bint Muhammad painting is red - the color of the vital energy and passion. It perfectly matches the identity of Fatimah, the most beloved of all four daughters, whom Muhammad called, “the head of the women of my nation”.
|Fatimah bint Muhammad|
The eastern mentality is defined by reservedness, avoidance of direct, bold statements. It’s the culture of the ornament. Moreover, as everyone knows, Islam prohibits the art of portraiture. Thus, the language of abstract art was the best solution in talking about such powerful historical personages, as the daughters of Prophet Muhammad. The abstract art master found the way to depict without a depiction, and tell the stories of strength and devotion without a word or a figurative image. You don’t need to know the biographies of Zainab, Ruqayyah, Umm Kulthum bint Muhammad or Fatimah, to sense the way the painter perceives their identities. He shares his fascination with the characters that often remain in the shadow of history. But their empowering nature is doubtless. As Eleanor Roosevelt used to say, “A woman is like a tea bag - you can't tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.”
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