Inspired by the efforts of the oppressed women, Olga Stamatiou began to paint the series, Let Our Voices Emerge. Using simplified shapes and a somber palette of dark grays representing despair, and eerily glowing jewel tones signifying hope, the veiled women from Cairo are symbolically elevated. For Stamatiou they now represent women of all cultures who struggle for basic freedom and the right to be heard.
The hijab and burka worn by Muslim women to comply with dictates for modesty have become symbols that evoke tension between religion, individuality, sexuality, and choice. Stamatiou’s veiled women, weighed down by fabric, are hidden and silent; they are set apart from our world, particularly removed from western culture. Stamatiou emphasizes that her women are not victims. Instead, they represent the universal struggle to be seen and heard. She accomplishes this aim by frequently depicting faceless forms as part of a group. While the veil may function as a barrier between the women and the viewer, it serves as a unifying element among the women as they merge into one body. When united by fabric and common action, as demonstrated in the signature painting titled No. 34, the women surge ahead like foot soldiers. Their supernaturally lit headscarves imbue them with determination and power.
Stamatiou’s seated figures, on the other hand, are immobilized by fabric. Their posture echoes Renaissance-era paintings of the Virgin Mary, yet Mary’s traditional cloak has turned into a shroud that covers the face completely and swallows the figure. It functions to both conceal and reveal the body beneath, while focusing attention on the fabric as an expressive device in itself. In later paintings, the fabric becomes increasingly transparent, until in one instance, the women glow from within exposing their gaunt, unclothed bodies that have been deprived of sustenance.
Although created as the first canvas in the series, the culmination of Let Our Voices Emerge may be found in No. 1, the painting that depicts rigid women, akin to caryatides (a sculpted figure of a woman used as a column in ancient Greek architecture) floating upward, released from the constraints of fabric and oppression, moving from darkness to light.