Last week I was part of a team that worked few hours with an Iraqi family based in North London. At the end of the session I recieved two unexpected presents.
It so happened, unrelated to the work and process involved, that both father and daughter were into drawing and while the team was working with one of them, the other was drawing. Thus at the end of the session I recieved two portraits.
The girls portrait of me is quite a sweet thing: furthermore it represents me at about the girl's age - eleven. Otherwise I am recognisable: the blue dress with the triangle décolleté; the shoulder length hair with the blue hair-clip; the relaxed and easy body posture - I am not sure where I have it from: is it the years dancing? Or is it the Bedu gene - when one doesn't have a home, one is relaxed everywhere; the smiling face - I enjoy working most of the time. And then there is something like Eia written in the paper, which is quite close to what I am called.
We discus the portrait. The team confirms that it is certainly me at the age of eleven. Then few moments later the father hands me over a piece of paper and says "A flower for you".
Effectively there is a blue-pinkish flower drawn on the paper and underneath it another, black and white flower. "It is dedicated" says the man, which makes me look at the back of the paper as on the flower-front as presented to me I see no dedication.
What I see at "the back" of the paper is the portrait of a veiled woman, with an expressionless face and hard eyes. And there is the "dedication". It reads "To sister Iva" in Arabic.
At that point I am perplexed and disorientated: he said he has drawn me a flower, but then he had put the dedication on the other side where drawn is a woman; the woman must be there drawn another time, but why didn't he write the dedication on the front side. Thus runs my stream of thoughts and I don't hurry up to understand as, not being a control freak, in general I like the feeling of slight disorientation. At that time other things are going on around too - the session has finished, people talk and take goodbuys. I leave.
On my way back home I look again and again at the piece of paper and its two sides. The two flowers on the one side: one in my "present life colours" and the second one, the one that I even haven't noticed at first or more precisely the one that I thought was just there on the paper before "the flower for me" was drawn. This black and white "still hidden" flower that "stylistically" connects with the veiled women at the back. This black and white veiled woman that still lacks "the colours of life". The muslim woman in embryo waiting to come to life in me (?!?).
I am appalled. Horrified. Just as much as if the man has given me a nude portrait of moi. I mean it would have been completely unacceptable if the father of the child at the end of the session has given me a naked portrait.
Yet the veiled image of a presumable Muslim me is equally offensive. And also scary. Because I rarelly forget that in a parallel reality many steps away (read Terry Pratchet's The Long Earth) I walk to my neighbours in Mosul, as a veiled woman.
What contributes to my confusion is that the episode with the 'Double Sided Flower Porttait' followed a pleasant chat we had with this man about Leonardo and the man's dream that his son becomes a second Da Vinci.
So ingenuity, drawing, construction, philosophy and all the glory of the palace of François I + 2000 golden coins annual salary for your son, and a veil for me, huh? I think. No, thank you, I would say to such flower. I will leave it perish unwatered and unsunned.
Last but not least: Is it all Muslim men's porn to picture veiled all unveiled women? Just like my friend the Free Range Satanist undresses in his inner eye every woman passing by, but the other way round?
There is a saying Bulgarian women use often "Call him a man and don't insult him any more"...
On the occasion of 500 years from the death of Leonardo Da Vinci the NATIONAL GALLERY reveals images of ‘abandoned’ angel and Christ underneath The Virgin of the Rocks. The new Leonardo experience opens to public: Saturday 9 November 2019 .
Also LEONARDO DA VINCI: A LIFE IN DRAWING at The Queen's Gallery
25 August 2019