Aleena Sharif is a Pakistani female artist who focuses on oil paintings of nude female figures. The overall scaffolding behind her work is to confront issues of negative connotations around the female body and body image. She works to normalise confidence and move away from this unforgiving stereotype against women. The pieces aim to create a sense of power.
Decolonial Thoughts: Your work aims to normalise confidence and challenge unforgiving stereotypes against women. Can you tell us about the inspiration behind this focus and what led you to explore this theme in your art?
Aleena: I spent the first half of my life living in Pakistan, and the lifestyle I was made to conform to made me very aware of my body and how little power I had in terms of doing what I wanted. There was an expectation of how to act and dress and make myself smaller and that never felt right with me. I always tried to challenge these societal norms as much as I could but I found by creating powerful works of art I found a way to push those boundaries.
Decolonial Thoughts: In what ways does your art create a safe space for women to explore and express their true selves without fear of judgment or societal expectations?
Aleena: When I paint, I have the fully nude realistic figures standing in their power. By having this energy, women firstly will see a body that they can connect to and then, seeing it taking up space and commanding attention rather than hiding away, I would like them to be able to be inspired and start the conversation of ‘if she can do it, so can I’. As well as the fact that it is from the female gaze and painted in a way that is not meant to be looked AT but the figure is looking upon you. So it's as if the viewer can see the figure is fully comfortable and almost take a breath of relief when they don't have to live up to it.
Decolonial Thoughts: Intersectionality plays a crucial role in shaping women's experiences. How does your art embrace the diversity of women's experiences and address the unique challenges faced by marginalised women?
Aleena: I just paint what I see, every day, in the mirror, in real life, my truth. It is my reality and I haven't seen it depicted in mainstream art/ media so I decided to create it and put it out there for myself. I have received such heartwarming comments from women who say they see themselves in the figures, even though they are meant to be anonymous. One of the main ones is of "No Longer Available", it is an action that every woman has done. It is such a minute, mundane action but so powerful and I wanted to capture it because I feel is it a universal experience.
Decolonial Thoughts: How do you envision your art contributing to a larger societal shift towards empowering women and dismantling harmful stereotypes?
Aleena: My goal with these paintings is just to inspire confidence and spread the idea of women taking up space unapologetically. Often we have to make ourselves smaller whether it's cultural, social or whatever reason and I hate that feeling. Hopefully, by creating a world in the canvas where these figures are not expected, we can start a subconscious shift in the way I or the viewer approaches things.
Decolonial Thoughts: What do you think it means to be decolonial? And how do you think you are contributing to that?
Aleena: To me, I HOPE I am contributing to that by going against everything I was brought up with. Questioning the shame and reclaiming pride in my body. I would love to be creating a conversation in which when people question "Why is this ok?", it is answered with "Why isn't it? A nude figure is one of the most natural things in the world" and then we go further to examine why is this making you so uncomfortable. Is it because she is nude or because she is unashamed? Whichever answer then starts a whole new conversation till we can get to the root of the stigma.
You can find more of Aleena’s work on instagram.com/aleenasharif_art/