This is a continuation of my vampire series that started with last year’s “Covenant.” It’s not necessarily a religious series, but that seems as good a place to start as any. Like the nun piece, I didn’t initially have any thematic motives when I came up with this one; the idea simply struck me as a cool, twisted image (I had never seen or heard of a Muslim vampire). But once I began to flesh it out in my mind and eventually on paper, it took on a conceptual life of its own.
I find burqas to be very unsettling for a variety of reasons. There are many different styles, some covering more of a woman’s face and body than others, and in every region/country in the Arab world there are different customs and laws governing their usage (which can rapidly change, depending on who’s in charge at that given moment). In some places it’s expected or even enforced, in others it’s voluntary but expected. Depending on the region it is a religious custom, or simply a cultural one (in Pakistan the burqa was even at one time a status symbol for wealthier women who didn’t need to work).
As always, I did a lot of visual research, but my result doesn’t necessarily conform to a single example I collected. It is most similar to the niqÄb style, found in countries like Syria, Yemen, and Saudia Arabia.Â The practice is disturbing on both visual and moral levels. On a purely visceral level, I find the sight of a formless humanoid shadow unsettling; it’s total nightmare fuel. And in regions where it’s mandatory and enforced to wear one, it seems like a human rights issue. Being forced to cover your entire body is essentially imprisonment, and it is physically unsafe for many reasons.Â I try to be as culturally tolerant as possible, but there are some things no one should have to endure, and it is never acceptable for any group of people to live as second class citizens.
(That being said, I disagree with the ban on burqas that have been instituted in some placed (such as France), since it infringes on the religious/cultural freedoms all people should have. Despite my feelings, I think it should be the right of any person to wear one so long as it doesn’t directly harm them or others. In a perfect world, no woman would feel the need to hide herself in such a manner, but maybe that’s my Western ignorance.)
I found the idea of a vampire Muslim woman very compelling, in part because of her subjugated status – using her low profile and relative anonymity to hunt. Much as in my “Devil Girl” piece, she can use the cover of innocence and submissiveness to surprise unsuspecting (male?) victims. I did not necessarily intend her to be an evil monster, if only because I have too much affection for vampires to not be on their side at least a little bit. And in this case, the scenario lends itself to a classic female revenge fantasy against male suppressors.
Considering the current cultural and political climate, this image could easily be interpreted as blatant, artistic Islamaphobia. Although I’m literally demonizing a Muslim (affectionately), my tolerance for Islam is equal to Christianity or any other major religion – that is to say, minimal, but in keeping with the values as set forth by my nation’s most sacred laws concerning religious freedom. It’s not for me, but I’ll defend anyone’s right to practice it. Taken with the context of my body of work, it can be seen for what it is intended to be – a really twisted picture to capture people’s interest.
As far as the production of the piece goes, it was a very time-consuming process, given the level of detail in the cloth. I studied a lot of examples of Islamic art, much of which has a basis in complex repeating geometry. I wish the patterns I drew came close to matching the real thing, but the difficulty in creating a geometrically perfect repeating pattern and then overalying that on a three-dimensional form would have crashed my brain (insufficient system resources). What I ended up doing is acceptable enough.
As I said above, my burqa design doesn’t conform to any one you’re likely to see. There are a variety of colors, styles, and textures in the world, but perhaps not as ostentatious as depicted here. The major change I added was the mouth hole. It’s totally inaccurate, but the entire concept of the image would not have come through without it.
The background was sketched out in pencil but drawn in Illustrator and worked on further in Photoshop. I wanted it to contain a minimal amount of detail so as not to compete with the foreground. I’m not sure if it’s entirely successful, but most experiments aren’t. Hopefully the next one will be, inshallah.