Two months ago, one of our researchers sent me a screenshot photo of this strikingly beautiful painting; of a silhouette of what seems like a girl with a cloak floating against arched entrances that resembles the hallways of an Islamic architectural structure, with layers of colours, brush strokes and geometric patterns eloquently spread across the canvass with such fluidity, had me traversed into another world, instantly.
The dramatic burst of colours exhibits yet a serene feeling. The contrast between the capri blue and black reminds me of a time I was in Turkey for a tour; when I woke up to the eerie call of the Muslim prayer at dawn. It was captivating that I couldn’t resist but follow the fainting voice of the caller to the balcony of my hotel suite and only to be met by the breathtaking scene of the moment.
The world, the universe, paused at a standstill. Down the streets, the tranquil lamp posts were glaring against the foggy breaths of the mosque- goers, while birds flew overhead as if trying to escape the harsh reality of the day ahead of us.
It was a nostalgic moment.
The artist is a Muslim, I realized. I dug more at her IG profile and was captivated by more artwork spread in front of my screen. She is Canadian- born and a convert to Islam. Her art works are transcending. Her name is Audrée Marsolais.
Audrée completed her studies in Graphic Design from the Academy of Arts and Technology in Montreal (Canada) but the move to UAE made her fulfill her life’s true calling- becoming a full time artist. She had been invited to numerous prestigious arts exhibits around the Gulf and her works reached several corners of the world. Aside from selling artworks that include paintings, magnets, canvass totes, calendars and other collectibles, she also offers classes and private mentorship.
We are very pleased to have met such a humble and amazing artist who reminded us that God has assigned for each of us a destiny to fulfill, and being a covered does not hinder us to do something we truly love.
We are honoured to share this exclusive interview with her;
When was your first art exhibit? And what age were you?
My first art exhibition was in 2000 when I graduated in graphic design from the Academy of Design of Montreal. I was 25 years old.
When did you learn that you are an artist? And what motivated you?
I always knew I was an artist. Art was the only thing that constantly and consistently interested me throughout my life. As a child I would draw and paint for hours. As a teen I wanted to become a designer and artist. I temporarily left art while pursuing psychology studies but I quickly realized that it wasn’t for me and came back to art and went to study graphic design.
We have read that you migrated to UAE, from Canada, why did you choose UAE?
My husband applied for jobs in the Middle East because we wanted to try something new and were interested to live in a Muslim country for a while. He got an offer from a company in the UAE so we decided to take the opportunity.
Also, we have read that you are a convert to Islam. Please tell us a little background about your convert story.
When I was studying graphic design I met a Moroccan girl who became my roommate and very good friend. She had a French translation of the Quran that I borrowed at a moment where I had a lot of existential questions. I found more answers than I even thought I needed in this sacred book and it led me to embrace Islam in 2001.
So what does wearing a hijab means to you? What was your perception of hijab before becoming a Muslim and how is it impacting your life now that you are already one (of them)?
As a non-Muslim ignorant of the teachings of Islam, the hijab represented oppression and the submission of women to men, as I thought it was a rule invented by males to control their wives and daughters. When I learned about Islam, I found out it was coming from God, as a way for those wearing hijab to be identified as women of faith and therefore be protected and respected. I really understood what it meant when I started wearing it. For me now, it means complying to Allah’s command. It has also become a means of resistance to standards of feminine beauty that demand more exposure.
Tell us more about your art. What do you call that style of painting?
My style of work is called intuitive painting. I tell stories in a language of layers—painted and stamped marks and patterns, vivid colors and lots of drips of fluid paint. Figures and silhouettes eventually emerge in the final layers, like guides inviting the viewer to travel across the colourful worlds that I create
Is/ Are your painting(s) a reflection, or impression(s) of your faith? What message(s) do you want to send through your painting? What are your inspirations?
My work is really just an expression of my inner world. Instead of using words to describe how I feel, what I’ve been through, I use colour, mark making and brush strokes. My intention is not to send a message but to express myself, hoping it can resonates with the viewer. My main inspiration is nature, each and every painting I create has elements related to it: flowers, plants, birds, animals, etc. I also absorb my inspiration from other areas, like fantasy stories, anime movies, folklore and legends, and Islamic art. Similarly, nostalgia and melancholy are engines for my creativity.
How does painting, or your art connects you to your faith?
I pay tribute to nature in every painting. Its recurrence is a reassuring reminder that hope, beauty, and benevolence continuously surround and embrace us, and ultimately, that Allah is omnipresent, merciful and generous beyond measure. Painting is a way for me to express gratitude by celebrating the grandeur of Allah’s creation.
In the past, we don’t see much covered women donning a hijab in the artistic sphere, in your case, painting. What do you think is the advantage of being identified as a Muslim, or being covered as an artist? What significant does it bring to the artistic field and to the Muslims?
I think the visibility I get as an artist is great, as it it shows that women wearing hijab can be successful in different spheres. I’m hoping it can give other hijabis the courage to pursue an artistic career and to be proud of their identity.
Modest fashion is becoming a popular trend, do you think the modest influencers in social media represents you? Or your people?
I’m not really a trend follower and even though I like to wear beautiful clothes, I create my own ”fashion” based on what I think is right for a covered Muslim woman. In general I don’t resonate with the modest influencers or their view of what it means to be modest. I don’t think anyone needs to be “influenced” when it comes to how we appear in public.
For a closing statement, what does modesty means to you?
First and foremost, modesty means to me the awareness of the divine presence at all times, and everywhere. That awareness should ultimately lead to behaving outwardly in respectful manner to oneself and others, not only in the way we dress but in the way we act and talk, and inwardly by avoiding what is displeasing to Allah.
Get to know Audree Marsolais more and her amazing artworks.