– Hamra Abbas – 

Photo courtesy: Jamal Mustafa

Title: Woman in Black (detail)
Medium: Stained-glass
Year: 2011
Courtesy: Abraaj Capital Art Prize

Comprised of three stained glass windows measuring three meters in height, Woman in Black depicts the iconic image of a fictional female super-heroine. To view the work the audience is invited to sit on pew-like benches, inside a darkened room reminiscent of a place of worship. Stained glass, as an art form, reached its height in the Middle Ages. Like the illuminated manuscript, it was used to illustrate narratives of the Bible to a largely illiterate populace. Seen from inside a place of worship, such windows were deliberately intended to focus the attention of the worshipper on the sacred image by literally ‘blacking out’ contact with the outside world. The interplay of light and dark have often served as metaphors for good and evil and are deliberately employed by Abbas to accentuate the mysterious powers of the female figure, enshrined within the glass. Shown in the company of an army, brandishing swords, and decapitated fighters, the female figure is shown either under attack or quelling an act of violence. She is placed in the middle of a scene of conflict, suggestive of the worldly realities of contemporary society. Though Abbas uses traditional Indian miniature painting to depict the female figure, stylistic flourishes borne out of the stained glass process intercede. Such quirks register the overlap of traditions and skills within the work. Conceptualizing the belief that the message is found in the medium, a tenet that informs much religious art, Abbas playfully adapts an illuminated painting into an illuminated window, whose image by design, come and goes with the fading of the day.