The positive energy that exudes from Esraa Zidan’s paintings of these gorgeous fat ladies, can also be seen to radiate from the artist herself. This talented painter, PhD researcher and Lecturer at the Helwan University Faculty of Applied Arts, is a proud feminist driven by a desire to empower people, whether it is the audience or her students, by giving them the confidence to love themselves. We sat with her to discuss the power of art and the potential of young people.
Looking at Esraa’s work, it is clear that she is obsessed with bodies of overweight women. “I just love them, I love the curves. I am overweight myself so I thought why not? I thought the way they look and act is beautiful,” Esraa tells us. This is a huge breakaway from the usual images of women we are so used to seeing pictured, “artists tend to paint the conventionally ‘beautiful’ woman, but every woman is beautiful,” Esraa reveals.
“If you don’t like something about yourself, change it, but until then you have to learn to love yourself.”
For Esraa, this subject matter is hugely personal, “at school I was the biggest girl in the room, but whenever anyone would comment on it, my mother would tell me, you are beautiful. She gave me confidence. My husband has never told me I have to lose weight. Even when I am in my pajamas with messy hair, he still tells me I am beautiful. And every woman should feel that way. Even if everyone around her feels that she needs to lose weight, she doesn’t need to do anything, she is beautiful already.”
Esraa clarifies that, “I am against being overweight if it is harmful for the health, but my paintings tell people to love their bodies. If you don’t like something about yourself, change it, but until then you have to learn to love yourself.”
It is not just the subject of the paintings that is so inspirational, it is the mood that the painting captures, one of pure, unbridled happiness and joy. According to Esraa, “I wanted to bring positivity and happiness because women deserve to be happy.”
This desire to enhance people’s happiness is also reflected in her teaching. “I wanted to become an art teacher to help young people learn to be themselves. I always have female students who are very sad, even though they have their whole lives ahead. So I want to give them a positive role model, to show how their life can be,” Esraa reveals. “There is a communication problem between generations, so I want to bridge that gap. Young people need people to believe in them and give them support. We have to listen to them and allow them to express themselves, because they always have something important to stay. People think that age equals wisdom, but that isn’t true,” she adds.
“For me feminism is very simple; it is just the chance to choose whatever you want.”
Although the term ‘Feminism’ has become controversial, Esraa feels that the term resonates strongly with herself and her artwork and her belief in the freedom to be embrace yourself. She explains, “for me feminism is very simple; it is just the chance to choose whatever you want. There are feminists that give the term a bad reputation because they think that women should work, and that any woman who doesn’t work is a bad woman. If a woman wants to just get married and have children then she should be free to make that choice.”
Esraa ends on a very powerful note, “there was a very beautiful artist that lived in Egypt called Margo Veillon, she is my inspiration. When I was younger I thought I wanted to leave Egypt to see the world, because beauty is not here. But when I saw her leave everything and come to Egypt to paint, I started to look differently at Egypt and recognize its beauty.”
You can find Esraa on Instagram at @esraa_zidan_art and find her profile on ArtsMart here.