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Forgotten Heritage, Ola Alanqar

Ola Alanqar is a Canadian full-time artist, female entrepreneur, mother of four, and a Taekwondo red belt. As a mother, Ola understands how important it is for families to connect with their roots and develop a strong identity in today’s fast changing world. Ola is inspired by Islamic, indigenous, and fine arts, in addition to Van Gogh. Her work brings a unique offering to the North American audience looking for distinguished pieces with a contemporary twist between ancient and modern arts.

With over 20 years of experience in various mediums, Ola helps create holistic and traditional art pieces that aim to raise awareness about the forgotten stories of beautiful Islamic inspired arts. We talked about inspiration found in exploring heritage and identity through art and the challenges of being an artist.

Did you always want to be an artist?

I remember growing up among colours and paints, and spending hours in my own space sketching and painting. There were times that I would take my sketchbook with me on the bus to and from school if I wasn’t with the company of a book. I even used to spend all my pocket money on art supplies and books. So I believe it is fair to say that I have always been an artist.

What is the inspiration behind your work?

I always found art spoke louder than words. I was fascinated by the caricatures, paintings, photographs, or murals depicting a certain event or a story. I had to even pause when the art piece interpreted a special event in history. Being able to read through someone else’s eyes and emotions through their own lens is still one of my strongest inspirations to do what I do. An art piece can not only sum up thousands of words, but it can also transcend a state of mind, emotions, and even carry a message to the world regardless of the spoken language. That is the only uncensored language we know of.

Does your identity as a Canadian Muslim influence your work?

Absolutely yes! I do believe that the joy in making art only comes when we are aligned with who we are and our most authentic and pure self. There is nothing more precious to me than when my art reflects about our bright history and beautiful heritage. It brings that unique feeling of being grounded and whole. Think of the beautiful AlHambra in Grenada, to Damascus and Jerusalem, all the way to Kabul, Isfahan and Delhi, and even to Timbuktu! Being a mother of young souls, my art was one huge blessing to get my kids more connected with their roots and celebrate their identity in today's fast changing world. There is nothing as rewarding as a conversation starting at home around a single art piece, leading to many more among my kids’ peers, in their schools, and in their social circles. My kids are celebrating their identity through my art and this is a true blessing.

How did you learn about the Islamic geometry tradition?

Growing up in the UAE, Islamic Geometry was used commonly in architecture and in many decorative forms that I never saw standing out. I moved to Canada in 2007 and lived on the East Coast for 5 years, where I got to explore the indigenous people’s history and heritage and got to see their art first hand. I think I was searching for home, and instead home found me from within. I was fascinated by the use of geometry in their clothes and woven baskets to name a few, and that was my moment of awakening. The geometry images of my childhood started pouring and that brought a feeling of nostalgia and passion to explore geometry like I never did. I started picking up one book after the other, a research paper after the next, and right there a whole world of sacred beauty went wide open before my eyes. There was no turning back! My library is continuously growing as I am still learning! At first I thought my passion for mathematics was my motive, but the truth is I find myself contemplating a lot upon how this knowledge and rich techniques were incredibly applied with minimal tools centuries ago leaving us a legacy of knowledge that we are able to enjoy until today! Sacred arts were my way home.

Your work has a contemporary aesthetic combined with tradition, how did you create this style?

The more I dove deeper in my research and application of sacred and traditional arts, the more I fell in love with it more and more. I have so much appreciation and respect for how this art was able to showcase its identity across centuries and still touches our hearts with so much harmony and purpose.

As a Muslim Canadian artist Living in North America where contemporary art dominates, there was a big challenge to truly understand how versatile this art is and how it can be executed in various possitbilies. If this art can still fascinate us in mosques and churches built centuries ago for example, then it is up to our creativity to write our own narrative of the story.

My experience with various art mediums such as watercolours, oils and acrylics and also my study for different schools as impressionism and abstract helped me widen my perspective in executing this art in a way that I feel bridges the gap between east and west.

Where do you find inspiration for the colour compositions in your work?

To begin with this question, I have to say that I love the fact that my palette is a very versatile, and that I love to play with colours! I do spend a lot of time in research before I commit to the colour of the piece. Sometimes I am influenced by a story, an image of the place where a pattern comes from, or even an event in history. But I always go back to my purpose of the piece spoken through colours. Sometimes I find myself unable to detach from the original palette if I was working with a historical design, but then I enjoy testing different possibilities and mixing new colours to bring something unique - even if I stayed true to the original palette. I'm very influenced by the colour theory between art, design and photography but most importantly nature is my number one reference. Sometimes all it takes is to admire a beautiful flower in its own natural environment and put its palette into beautiful action.

What has been the most challenging moment in your career to date?

Motherhood, while working as a full-time artist doing what you love the most in such a challenging time as the ones we are living right now. As a visible Muslim artist trying to celebrate my own identity through my art. My kids are watching me throughout my journey very closely. Every step that I move on further, every decision that I make, every set-back, and every challenge is closely monitored by them. There are many lessons learned and many discussions evolving.

There were times I was asked why I chose the harder path while being very comfortable with other styles of contemporary art. My answer was always simple, I just do what serves my “why” and brings me joy.

What do you think the future of Islamic art looks like?

The pandemic that we are living in has created a huge shift in how the world viewed arts, and those changes will most probably affect our lives forever.

I cannot emphasize on the huge popularity of the Traditional Arts in recent times, whether as collectors, learners, or artists who dove deeper into this art to add something different to their offering or practice. When the art carries the most authentic and pure message of authenticity and beauty, as I view Islamic Arts, then there is no stopping to that.

I met many people who search for Islmaic Arts as a way to stay closely connected to their roots, some as a way to appreciate this unique sacred art, and some simply because they are on their own journey to unlearn and relearn history. I also met many who turned into Islamic Arts to bring back some forgotten traditional crafts.

Islamic Art is unique in its offering, versatility, and it's one of a kind connection to a point in time or history. It provides so much opportunity for contemplation of how magnificent creativity and freedom of expression can create - a world of wonder that will last forever.

For more information about OIa Alanqar check out

The views of the artists, authors and writers who contribute to Bayt Al Fann do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Bayt Al Fann, its owners, employees and affiliates.


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