The notion of being a queen in the conventional sense is an interesting one. A queen has power, authority and is considered iconic. Look at the regal portraits of the 16th-century English monarch Elizabeth I and see the iconoclastic and symbolic way in which she has been portrayed. But pomp and circumstance belie the tremendous pressure she had to bear throughout her life. Making liaisons, marriages and treaties set her up to be subjugated and ironically Elizabeth was known as the Virgin Queen and never married.
As many will know, the world Malika means Queen in Arabic. It was in common parlance when women were referred to as ’queens’. What did that mean in reality? They were basically refused basic rights which so many women living in today take for granted. Like Queen Elizabeth I’s experience the word Malika came to represent restriction. It is all very well being revered, adored and set upon a pedestal. But when life consists of remaining in one place with little opportunity to be free what kind of life is it exactly asks artist Anan Al-Olayan?
Anan Al-Olayan has taken the word Malika and offered a contemporary twist. She has offered another definition through a series of works celebrating Saudi Arabian women in all their complexity. Al-Olayan refuses to be bowed by the condescending notion ‘Malika’ has represented through history. The character of Malika is important, as Al-Olayan believes she has power. She also has regal qualities in as much as Malika is in control of her own territory, her thoughts, her own intimate space, her body and imagination. ‘O My America, my new found land’ is not about subjugation as in the original poem by the Elizabethan poet John Donne suggested. Malika rules her own land and wears her crown proudly. No matter what stereotype is imposed she is something very different. Perhaps the world can only see her eyes; but eyes are a window into the soul. They represent a passageway into a powerful realm within. Through her eyes you will see Malika is strong, determined and optimistic but most importantly true to her beliefs.
Anan Al-Olayan was born in 1976 and is Saudi Arabian by birth. She lives between London and Al-Khobar and travel frequently, drawing on the inspiration such differing cultural experiences bring. She is a self-taught artist who creates digital composite images using insertions of drawings and photographs. Her work is termed “digital fine art“. She also completes mixed media paintings and collages on both wood and canvas. Her initial calling was an academic one, following parental expectations. Her first career was Microbiologist and medical researcher. However there are voices that will never be silenced and after years of studying Art in workshops and courses it was clear her calling lay elsewhere.
It is obvious Al-Olayan’s interest lies within the minutiae of Malika’s mind in this set of paintings. The unseen world beneath the microscope lens is populated by a multitude of detail and images that are usually unseen. Anan opens up this world and demonstrates just what lies behind the veil. Just as the 16th century gentlemen who first used microscopes in the 1620s were suddenly privileged to view another dimension Al-Olayan gives us a new vision. She makes clear all that had always existed but outsiders never knew. Al-Olayan offers us ‘a new theatre of nature, another world’ to quote the 17th century poet and composer Sir Constantijn Huygens.