For many years, women have been the subjects of paintings. Historically, they have been painted by male artists and for the male gaze. Now and in recent years, more and more women have stood up to challenge these representations. Taking a case in point, Maisaa Al Mannai is a self-taught artist from Qatar whose paintings depict Arab women in traditional clothing.
Through her art, Al Mannai explores the themes of culture, heritage, and women. What is more, she photographs herself in emblematic locations, holding her paintings so that they cover her face. In this way, Al Mannai intertwines the aforementioned themes whilst also raising questions about one’s identity and how it is tied to our roots.
Speaking to Sip of Culture, Al Mannai discussed her art, her inspirations, and the role of clothing in her work.
Ms Al Mannai, when did you first begin painting?
It all started at a very young age. Ever since I was a child, I used to colour and draw whenever I got the opportunity. At times, I would draw random things I would be surrounded by or just let my imagination take way.
In what ways has your art evolved over time?
Starting from random drawings and colourings, there was a time in my life where I had stopped due to all the chores and distractions of daily life. However, as the COVID pandemic started, I decided to go back and it was only when I did that I realised how much I missed it…
It started off from being random drawings and evolving to painting, both acrylic paintings and oil paintings. Taking into account that many of us around the world have spent our recent times indoors, I started to explore further — in terms of types of paintings, ways and methods, which was very fascinating to me. This is where thick oil paintings became something that took me by surprise and made me admire it even more.
Clothing plays an important role in your artworks; taking a case in point, your recent paintings include the Palestinian Keffiyeh. Can you comment on the significance of clothing in this case?
We all know that we, today, are in an era where many are driven and influenced by news and social media, with every individual having access to the world via these channels, and in many cases being influenced by inaccurate messages.
The Keffiyeh being one of them, we have all seen the sadness and depressing news in regards to what is happening in Palestine, and when such news evolves over presenting a piece of clothing in an incorrect manner, it came to my attention to convey how beautiful this piece of clothing is and how it reflects the Palestinian culture and heritage in a painting.
How has your culture and background affected or inspired your work?
As a Qatari national, I have always been very committed and proud of our culture. Qatar started off as being perceived as a relatively small Arab country in the Middle East, to being a global leader in many sectors, let alone the economic transformation, all in which the nation remains standing strong and proud of our culture and heritage.
With that said, there is no doubt that this would impact and reflect in my passion of art, from the smallest details of clothing of how our ancestors lived, to the impact female gender has had in the development of my beloved nation.
What message do you hope to convey to your audience through your art?
Firstly, I strongly believe that every person has a passion in something, one way or another. Some may have not had the chance to identify what they are truly passionate about, but when the time comes, I strongly believe that there is no better way than reflecting a person’s inspiration in what they are passionate about and for me that is Art.
I also want my art to show how female gender plays a vital role in the development of our nation, when it comes to standing towards what we believe and the development and education of many future generations to come.
Maisaa Al Mannai’s work can be seen and followed on her Instagram @maysaaalmannai.