Outsider art is often idiosyncratic, but its merit comes from the pure, spontaneous gestures by the artist, and is created with an “imaginative process generally untouched by external influences”. (John Beardsley, “Imagining the Outsider”, Vernacular Visionaries, edited by Annie Carlano, 2009). Nagma Mohammed Omer, is a Middle Eastern artist who has gone ‘outside’ in her own culture. The beautiful oil paintings, unveiled figurative works, go against the societal and religious expectations of her region, and show the bravery of her creative pursuits with their bold color, expressive lines, and compositional choices. The paintings offer a unique vision into the culture and community of her region. The exhibit is a peaceful and quiet conversation between two cultures, a brief encounter and a chance to gain valuable insight into another way of life.
The traditions of Muslim dress for women in the Middle East have changed throughout history, depending on the region, the ruling leaders, and the political environment. A woman’s dress was often dictated by external factors, and a woman had no personal choice as to how she would present herself in her community. “When this is forced upon people against their will, it is coercive and likely to create a backlash.” (Armstrong, Karen, Islam: A Short History, Great Britain, Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 2000.) However, many Muslim women still chose to wear the abaya, and surprisingly, many of these women have progressive views on matters like gender. They feel “that veiling is a symbolic return to their pre-Columbian period, before their society was disrupted and deflected from its true course.” (Armstrong, K., 2000.) The Islamic faith encourages modesty in dress, for both men and women, and the “shrouded body declares that it is orientated to transcendence, and the uniformity of dress abolishes class difference and stresses the importance of community over Western individualism.” (Armstrong, K., 2000.)
Nagma’s statements indicate that this is an important issue to her, and she is experiencing various pressures from the spiritual and political forces of her culture. The ability for her to express her feelings through her art is unique, and only allowed due to the progressive nature and support of her husband, friends and community. “The fact that Muslims have not yet found an ideal polity for the twentieth century does not mean that Islam is incompatible with modernity.”(Armstrong, K., 2000.) It is through interactions like this exhibit, that a balance between the differences of our cultures, the secular and spiritual values, can be found, and that all people can live freely and pursue their dreams and prosper.
The Middle East is challenged in many ways in this modern age; societal, political and spiritual issues are all close to the heart. In a true spirit of peace, the world must find a way to co-exist, to try to understand and tolerate different mindsets, beliefs and rituals. We must generate an environment where individuals can come together, to exchange knowledge with another culture, and progress to a peaceful future.
~Laura Brent, Director