Barely 16 months after the launch of her series of playful paintings, which feature plump, happy women frolicking on her canvases, artist Esraa Zidan has a growing loyal fan base among art lovers. Her paintings clearly touched a chord with young people, especially women who appreciate the self-confidence and joyful freedom of the women depicted. eniGma’s Nayera Yasser sat down with the young artist to talk about her unlikely journey to success, and her take on anatomy, self-confidence, and joy.
In a world, where embracing uniformity is the safe bet for so many, it is heartening to find individuals, like artist Esraa Zidan, who dare to step away from the herd. Almost by accident, Zidan decided to embark on painting figures that did not conform to conventional standards of beauty. At one dark moment, seeking to confront her own personal struggle with weight and depression, the artist sought refuge amidst her canvases. She recalls how somehow her feelings made their way to her canvas to produce unexpected images. Zidan says, “I found myself drawing nontraditional models of women. They became fuller as the paintings took shape.” When Zidan’s husband saw them, he encouraged her to continue exploring these new proportions in her paintings. “The anatomy of women with curvy figures actually gave me a wider range to show their beauty and allowed me to highlight my heroines’ inner peace, happiness and playfulness,” she explains.
Zidan remembers that the first day she began to paint her curvy models was a particularly gloomy day. Feeling quite depressed, she was cocooned in her favourite corner in the house, seeming to unconsciously follow the whims of her brush on the canvas. With a few slick movements of her brush, the first of her heroines materialised on the right side of the canvas balancing the traditional oud, on her crossed legs. Liking what she saw, Zidan went on to draw her second heroine, almost a replica of the first, also with a oud.
The energy and delightful aesthetic of her two plump women soon brought Zidan out of her depression. “I had always been an outgoing person, much like my models. Emphasising their freedom helped me personally follow their footsteps and get back to my usual state of mind,” explains Zidan.
Having earned a master’s degree in anatomy from the Faculty of Fine Arts, Zidan was well positioned when it came to drawing a human body with the right proportions. “In anatomy, you learn the exact numbers and measurements of the human body. No matter how varied people’s sizes, weights, and heights are, all human bodies share the same proportions. But soon, I felt that my deep knowledge of the human body was restricting my creativity,” says Zidan. After a while, she no longer wanted to be restrained by measuring every single detail of her heroines. “So, I started breaking all the rules that I had spent so much time studying,” the artist explains.
Zidan emphasises that her paintings are not an invitation to women to gain weight. On the contrary, the paintings simply disregard conventional beauty standards in favour of inspiring women to be confident and comfortable in their own skin. “You should always seek a healthy and happy lifestyle,” says Zidan.
With no intention of leaving her charismatic heroines behind, the artist is currently fully invested in painting a summer edition of her series. “I am excited to hit the beach with my heroines dressed in a rainbow of swimsuits,” says with genuine laughter.
On a more serious note, Zidan explains that she is also about to defend her PhD thesis on the topic of unusual beauty proportions. “The topic is not just about weight. It goes beyond that to include everything else, such as height and silhouettes,” she excitedly elaborates. In her thesis, she studies iconic artists who have experimented with this topic, from Picasso’s focus on curvy women for a period, to El Greco, who favoured subjects of extraordinary height, to Matisse who painted figures with unusual silhouettes. “I analyse the legacy of previous artists before arriving at my own interpretation,” says Zidan with a twinkle in her eyes.