Describing femininity is a complex task as it encompasses a wide range of qualities, characteristics, and cultural connotations that vary across individuals, societies, and historical periods. In Cloaked in her Essence, artists Noor Bahjat and Shireen Co’s recent works pay attention to the subtleties of femininity.

Noor Bahjat’s female figures pay attention to the understated details of modern beauty standards that are influenced by high fashion. Her pieces “Miss Gorgeous” and “Blue Hair” find beauty in physical features from model-esque muses. This includes sporting a tooth gap or donning colored hair.

In her other works, she uses the female form to depict time. Her piece “Present” depicts the removal of a piece of one’s self and the anticipation of donning a new mask or persona that we as viewers may assume is worn in preparation for what lies ahead. The pieces “Care” and “Wedding” could be understood as the different roles one holds at present or an allusion to the constant change that happens in different points of a woman’s life.

She offers another perspective with her piece “Self Hug.” Bahjat leaves an open-ended query to the viewer as the posture of the figure could be read as a gesture of protection, or opposition. It is possible that it could be interpreted as a stance of self-preservation, guarding one’s emotions or thoughts, or maintaining personal boundaries.

Meanwhile, Shireen Co paints women’s clothing in various forms of disarray. She skillfully renders this set of clothing in a number of configurations without overwhelming the viewer by keeping her background plain. Her works “Knot”, “Perplex”, and “Ravel” are metaphorical representations of complex relationships or circumstances between its owners. Only her piece “Undo” suggests a sense of unburdening relief or reprieve from vigorous handling of these clothes.

Beyond these entangled clothes are narratives that most women are all too familiar with. The artist leaves it to the viewer to decide whether these clothes are bunched together from an act of indecisiveness in dressing up or the aftermath of undressing.

Notes by Marz Aglipay