Maggi Hambling is famous for being one of the most controversial living artists. Her public memorial sculptures – of cultural figures such as Oscar Wilde and Benjamin Britten – have continually divided public opinion. Her work is represented in the New Hall Art Collection with ‘Gulf Women Prepare for War’, a piece which has proved similarly divisive among students, academics and visitors. The painting depicts a group of women in hijabs, preparing for the Iran-Iraq War, based on a photograph published in The Times.
Hambling’s female Muslim soldiers subvert many art historical tropes, challenging traditional depictions of women, such as the female nude. In Hambling’s painting it is the desert that is painted in fleshy pink tones, while the women themselves are visions in black. Rather than seductively locking eyes with the viewer, the women turn away from their voyeurs. Wielding their enormous weapons, they are not passive and submissive, but powerful, active and dangerous.