Sensual surrealism

Habiba Abdelall’s cultural clash with female sexuality

51683552_756811008030709_5060162380307103744_n

After a serious car accident in Buffalo, UB student Habiba Abdelall found her comfort through art. 

Her focus: female nudes. 

The senior studio arts major picked up drawing as a way to help ease her depression and she eventually enrolled in classes at UB. The focus was different for Abdellal because she said growing up her family disapproved if her body was not covered. But when she moved to the United States at 17 years old from Egypt, she fell in love with the female body. Abdellal said she overcame the adversity of a conservative, disapproving upbringing and the trauma of a near-death experience in order to pursue her art. 

“When I came to the states, I found the freedom to look and paint however I wanted,” Abdelall said. “I fell in love with the female body because I think it is beautiful and it deserves respect; it deserves de-sexualizing and it deserves a painting. So I started painting nudes.”

Recovering from the accident wasn’t easy for Abdellal, either. 

“I ended up with bone fractures and two facial scars –– one above my right eyelid and one on my right cheek,” Abdellal said. “I dropped down to a part-time student for a year because I was lost between doctor appointments, therapists and recovery. I was severely depressed and alone.” 

Christian Gonzalez, a senior general management major, remembered her use of art as a form of recovery.

“When Habiba first started [painting], I think it was more about self-therapy. Soon, it evolved into something more for her,” Gonzalez said. “I think her art was a way for her to freely express herself. She definitely fell in love with it. I could read her thoughts and feelings from her very first drawing.”

Abdellal soon switched majors from architecture to art and began to paint nudes because of the “individuality” of the female form.

Coming from a conservative background, she said she understands that her content is not for everyone.

“I would identify as a straight, cis-gender person, who is really interested in the female body,” Abdellal said. “Personally, I think sex is a beautiful, natural thing, but it could be something very off-putting for someone else and that is also OK.” 

Her journey to find her own artistic approach led her to explore different styles of art. Her paintings are primarily abstract, but she dabbles in a variety of styles and mediums. She is currently exploring the incorporation of physical materials like thread, wood, paper and steel wire.

“I was always interested in different styles –– hyper-realistic paintings being my least favorite,” Abdellal said. “This is because I believe that the eye can see hyper-realistically, but your brain is able to create the most amazing things, and I wanted my hand to be a tool in translating what my brain saw.”

As Abdellal became more confident in her work, she began to offer commissions to family and friends. Now she plans on expanding her brand through social media. 

“Some commissions take hours, and some take months to finish. The other day I was working on a painting that I started three years ago,” Abdellal said. “I build an intense connection with paintings after I finish them, and it’s hard to let them go.” 

Prachi Goyal, a graduate student in quantitative finance, holds Abdellal’s art and work ethic in high regard.

“I believe that her art has a lot of meaning and depth –– it can be interpreted in many ways. I see it as an abstract narrative of empowering femininity,” Goyal said. “Her paintings feel like a conversation. I not only see the raw emotions of the artist in her work, but also feel them.”

Abdellal said she plans on using her degree to pursue art in the future and is hoping to open her own art gallery.

“The human body is very beautiful and full of detail,” Abdellal said. “All bodies are beautiful and all bodies are different.”

Samantha Vargas is the asst. arts editor and can be reached at samantha.vargas@ubspectrum.com and on Twitter @SamVargasArts