Growing up in Morocco, artist Ouafae Taame was stirred by the visual splendor of her homeland, which for centuries has been added to as various peoples and empires put their stamp on the country’s architecture and crafts. That beauty, Taame said, informs her artwork.
“In Morocco, beauty is an essential element in architecture, textiles and other crafts and traditions,” Taame said, adding that her work “expresses my personal emotional experiences, using visual aesthetics that are inspired by my culture.”
In celebration of Arab American History Month, which began April 1, a collection of Taame’s work is on view through June 24 at the Activity Center at Bohrer Park in Gaithersburg. The artist’s work came to the attention of the City’s Cultural Arts Advisory Committee, which sought to have an artist originally from the Islamic world highlighted during April. This was part of a broader plan to showcase Gaithersburg’s ethnic diversity in its art programs, appropriate given its ranking as the nation’s second-most diverse small city in January by WalletHub.
Taame, who came to Maryland in 2008 to join her husband, teaches in Gaithersburg, making her a natural choice for the Arab American History Month exhibit. She said that her artwork, consisting of oil and acrylic paint on canvas, explores motifs of femininity and Islamic womanhood from within the prism of Arabic culture.
“Femininity is expressed through the fluid and gracious movement of the different visual elements, using curvy lines and harmonious compositions,” Taame said. “My art expresses feminine sensibility through the color palette and the richness of the patterns.”
Her series of images of women wearing traditional Islamic headscarves subtly show off the subjects’ faces. “These patterned and colorful scarves symbolize [the women’s’] emotions and thoughts through how [the scarves] envelop the main subject and how they interact with the whole composition,” Taame said. “The scarves depict movement, rhythm and [function] as the supporting actor in the painting scene.”
One of her works, simply titled “Portrait,” shows a woman with a gold scarf, which the artist said is meant to entice the beholder into a quiet moment of reflection. “It’s a moment of peace. [Your] thoughts and feelings are still there, but [looking at the work] gives more room for the subject to be present,” Taame said.
As a child growing up in Morocco, Taame said she was inspired by Diego Velazquez, Alphonse Mucha, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Gustav Klimt and spent her free time drawing and writing. At the turn of the millennium, she began designing video game characters, which gave her an in with the video game company Ubisoft Casablanca in 2001, leading to later 2D and 3D designing jobs in Montreal, France and the United Arab Emirates. She has worked in video game design for a dozen years on such high-profile titles as the “Assassin’s Creed” and “Prince of Persia” series.
Given her history of working on such fantastical projects, it seems appropriate that her artwork explores a milieu caught somewhere between dreams and reality, offering what Taame described as “a connection between real-life experiences and how [they] affect the emotional state and vice-versa,” Taame said, likening her work to the spell cast by Scheherazade, the character and storyteller in Middle Eastern literature’s “One Thousand and One Nights.”
“During my creative process, I go through stages of alert awareness and complete intuitive and spontaneous expression,” she said. “My work is an intermediary between myself and my ideas and emotions. It’s my way to think and feel out loud.”
Taame, who has a degree from the Fine Arts National Institute in Morocco, also has worked as a fashion designer. In addition to following her artistic muses, she teaches at Tarbiyah Academy, a private Islamic elementary school in nearby Elkridge.
Arabic culture and motifs are major influences on her work, she said, particularly when it comes to that region’s rich history of textiles and stark visual patterns. “I also draw inspiration from Arabic calligraphy and the ‘flowiness’ of the lines and letters,” she said of the characters that make up Arabic’s written language. “I am inspired also by Arabic literature and poetry, and its ability to construct visual narratives using words.”
Taame hopes “that visitors [to Bohrer Park] will get a taste of Arabic culture and that my art awakens their curiosity to know more about other Arab artists. My advice for aspiring artists is to stay true to their passions, nurture their creativity with whatever inspires them, develop their craft and remain curious and observant.”
The City of Gaithersburg presents the work of Ouafae Taame through June 24 at the Activity Center at Bohrer Park, 506 South Frederick Ave., Gaithersburg. Hours are 8 a.m. to p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free. For information, call 301-258-6394 or visit www.gaithersburgmd.gov.