Oil on Linen
30 x 40 cm / 11.8 x 15.7 Inches
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This woman is from an Akha tribe in the area of Laos, bordering Cambodia, where married women wear these characteristic head dressings to show that they are married women. It’ is usually made from bamboo cones, giving its shape and is usually adorned with silver coins, like this Piastre de Commerce coin and other hand woven beads and chains.
At first, I wanted to title this portrait ‘a girl with a copper earring’. Although abstractly this could make sense, the copper colored beads are of course not earrings. However, I still find some parallels between her and Vermeer’s girl with a pearl earring which inspires me. In Vermeer’s painting the girl with the pearl earring appears to be about to speak; so does this Akha woman, except, she seems to be speaking with her eyes instead.
Similar to Vermeer’s girl who is an anonymous working class person, rather than the usual key social figures that were often immortalized through oil painting in his time, this Akha woman is not a wealthy or key social figure either. Where Vermeer’s girl’s overemphasized earring gives the illusion of status and wealth, the grandeur and intricacies of the Akha woman’s ‘crown’ also gives an unfamiliar onlooker the impression of royalty or status, when in fact, silver coins like these were usually worn by the poorer Akha women.
The turban worn by Vermeer’s girl is a said to be a symbol of worldliness. Contrary to this, the headpiece worn by the Akha woman is a symbol of her tradition, in a culture where tradition is fast giving way to westernization. Though my goal is not to draw attention to the head covering itself for its original cultural significance and purpose, but rather what it allegorically represents to me; a conservative worldview, in resistance to worldliness and secularism.