x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Golden girls in golden masks

Artist Leila al Marashi has taken some of the world's most legendary images of women and adorned them with the traditional burqa.

The artist Leila al Marashi stands next to Marilyn, Beyoncé and Britain's Elizabeth II. The pieces use hundreds of pearls and crystals. Satish Kumar / The National
The artist Leila al Marashi stands next to Marilyn, Beyoncé and Britain's Elizabeth II. The pieces use hundreds of pearls and crystals. Satish Kumar / The National

DUBAI // She certainly didn't look like that in Some Like it Hot.

The picture of Marilyn Monroe is instantly familiar. Her eyebrows are arched, her neck and ears adorned with gemstones, every strand of blonde hair is in place.

But one thing is different. She is wearing a burqa, the mask traditionally worn by Emirati women.

The striking image is one of a series of pop art pictures by the clothes designer-turned-artist Leila al Marashi, an Emirati from Dubai.

Other subjects given the burqa treatment include Beyoncé, Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and the Lebanese model, actress and singer Haifa Wehbe. Mona Lisa and Audrey Hepburn, and a number of classic perfume bottles, are also transformed.

All the pictures are embellished with exotic materials such as Swarovski pearls and taffeta silk, which are all hand-stitched. Each work contains up to 3,250 pearls, 1,800 crystals and 900 beads.

The series - on show until the end of April at the Pavilion Downtown Dubai, a new art centre near the Burj Khalifa - was inspired by two of al Marashi's passions: her respect for Emirati culture and her interest in 1940s vintage fashion icons.

"My brand is all about turathi, meaning 'my heritage'," she said. "Also it's called Sugar Vintage, so vintage and turathi sort of go hand in hand.

"These women are very glamorous and beautiful and they've left their mark in some way or another, they're strong.

"In the past, women used to wear the burqa, but lately nobody wears it much, only your grandmother, so it's sort of dying.

"I think a lot of people are inspired by it today because they want to keep the memory alive.

"I use strong women and I use a strong traditional icon to say lots of women behind the burqa were still very strong and inspirational.

"The women I know who wear it are just as amazing but not as celebrated as much as these women are."

The images started life as T-shirt designs. Then a friend suggested al Marashi should blow them up. "It was a beautiful challenge because we had to buy the images, print them on canvas and hand-embellish the embroidery.

"I went all-out on the materials, it's all pearls and other expensive items.

"I used a team of embroiderers I have in-house who I guided. I worked very closely with them because it had to be really beautiful."

The pictures come in various shapes and sizes and are on sale for up to Dh30,550 each through the Dubai-based fashion chain S*uce, which stocks al Marashi's clothes.

Gallery owners in Paris and Kuwait have expressed interest in showing the series later in the year, although that will depend on how many remain unsold.

The style has caught the imagination of many who have seen the series.

"People now want customised pictures of their families or loved ones," she said. "This guy had a really weird request, he's a CEO and he's got this technology where they do these 3D human forms, and he wants the whole thing embellished with crystals.

"So it's interesting that people are coming up with their own ideas of how to take it a step further."

Leila al Marashi will give a talk about the burqa series at the Pavilion at 7pm on April 12.

csimpson@thenational.ae