Reclaiming the Veil: One Artist’s Vision

Hello! Ramadan Mubarak to all of those fasting out there! It’s officially the month of Ramadan, and in the spirit of the occassion, I’ve been reflecting and having much more quiet to process my thought. Not having to stop to feed my cravings or quench my thirst every 30-60 minutes,  albeit straining, can bring about a tremendous amount of clarity.

Collage work in my upcoming abaya paintings. These are found papers featuring Klimt.
Collage work in my upcoming abaya paintings. These are found papers featuring Klimt.

In writing this, I became aware of my own unique position as an American, as a convert, and as an artist. All of these identities have shaped my experiences and how I process the world around me, particularly the “Islamic World”. Many times, like my western counterparts, I stand as a purveyor and observer into an incredibly rich and layered way of life that I have come to adopt as my own for the last 7 years.

From an early age, you could say I had wanderlust. I was never content with staying in the confines of the Newark city upbringing. I knew there was more out there. By high school, I had become a nationally competitive Lincoln-Douglass debater, traveling to Texas, Chicago, Boston, and Connecticut. By college, I had committed to learning Portuguese (simply after discovering music I had liked) and spent a summer in Brazil at 18 years old. And after embracing Islam during my last year of college, my circle of friends had expanded in a way that was more reflective of my worldview. I was a global citizen, and I truly felt connected to the human experience through the lens of a religion that dates back over 1,400 years ago.

"The Wedding II" 24x24" acrylic on canvas, Available
“The Wedding II” 24×24″ acrylic on canvas, Sold

Through that connectedness, I broke bread with Muslim women from Sudan, Somalia, Turkey, Tunisia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Malaysia, and more. Many of these women are still my dear friends today. I remember forging relationships with them and being in awe of the rich histories that they carried. They were not like ordinary women. They possessed a quiet confidence, an allure, a deep understanding of who they are and what they believe in. I knew that if I was ever afforded the chance, I would depict them somehow, if not in the novels I had dreamed about writing, then in my paintings.

Fast forward to my present life as a working artist in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. I had never even heard of this small desert metropolis until recently, but you could say it was a happy accident. In the UAE, the Emirati women pledge a strong allegiance to their young nation and old culture. We witness this in the most apparent manner by their dress code: long flowing, jet black “abaya” or cloak, embellished with the finest craftsmanship and scented with the best perfumes money can buy. They don the veil or “hijab” in a bolder manner, revealing freshly styled hair underneath a sheer layer of fabric. It confuses most visitors and amuses the many expats living here, to say the least. For me, quite simply, I had found my muse.

For months and moths, I toyed around with ways to capture the many images of Muslim women I had found both here and throughout my travels. While I kept working through abstract paintings, and eventually finding a colorful way to capture my camels, I continued to search for ways to paint them in a manner that suited my artistic vision and style. I needed it to happen organically and in my own way.

Today, I have found their faces on my canvas, and in patterns and colors that speak to me. These paintings have been described as being both haunting and beautiful, mysterious, yet serene. They are spiritual and yet not so serious. They are the Muslim women that I know and identify with.

"Omani Procession" 24x32 acrylic and oil pastel on canvas, View
“Omani Procession” 24×32 acrylic and oil pastel on canvas, View

I have left each of them faceless, because I do not think that they need a face. There’s no emotions to express on their countenance, and yet you can feel the emotions from the figures themselves. Ironically, this is often how I feel as a Muslim woman in the complex world we live in today. Faceless. Without feeling or emotion. As if I am just a cloak or the scarf that encircles my head when I leave my home.

And yet, my painting are so much more than that. I never wish to set out on any political message or to answer to anyone’s claims. More often than not, while I am creating these paintings, more questions arise for me than answers. Because they are portrayed abstractly, they can be from any place, from any country, and from any time period. Are they Muslims in the time of the Byzantine Empire, are they Muslim women in Africa, are they women today, striving for their voices to be heard on both sides of the table?

Perhaps, the biggest question of all is, what if, even though they are covered, even though they are veiled, what if they are happy? And not in spite of their religion, but because of it?

"Sisters" and "Tahajjud" 24x24" acrylics on canvas
“Sisters” and “Tahajjud” 24×24″ acrylics on canvas View

This is a continuous question for me and where I am in my own journey as an artist and painter. Thank you for reading this and following my paintings along the way!

Sincerely,

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http://www.amirarahim.com

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How to be a busy artist and not go crazy…

"Lucky Charms" 20x24" acrylic on canvas View
“Lucky Charms”
20×24″ acrylic on canvas
View

In the midst of the craziness going on these last few weeks, I thought I’d pause for a minute to write about what my world is looking like. It’s the middle of the month, almost the middle of the year, and it’s a Tuesday. That’s hump day for us in Abu Dhabi. So all across the board, I’m in the thick of it.

Assuming you care about my work or that what I do is even remotely interesting to you, I decided to share some thoughts on what it’s like behind the scenes as of late.

I should preface this by saying, this quarter has been one of the busiest terms ever, but not in the way I’m used to. The beginning of the year, I spent January painting 30 29 paintings in 30 days, connecting with a wave of new collectors, and then licking my wounds back in New Jersey with family, recuperating from hours of painting for months (Only to turn around and paint some more while I was there. Clearly, I know how to balance, ha.)

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Since I got back to Abu Dhabi, however, it’s been fast paced with a lot of moving parts all with the hopes of things working out later down the road. I’ve been working harder than ever, but I wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t my passion. And as a result, I have had to take some important steps to maintain the longevity of my career. Namely, getting my work professionally photographed by a reputable art photography company. I also had to get some professional photos of myself taken for some publication possibilities. My website got a big makeover and is still in the development phase.

I’ve also been working closely with a designer who is helping me get a better visual handle on myself as an artist and maker. And last but not least, I’ve been painting up and down for weeks for two special projects (in addition to my growing population of the #amirarahimsafari). I can’t divulge many details as of now, but I can say that it is for pretty high end clients and it is certainly requiring a lot out of me physically and creatively.

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My Abu Dhabi flat is packed with soooo many canvases. Some finished paintings, some works in progress, and some as large as 6 ft” tall waiting for me to make my mark, literally. I think if I were to count how many canvases in total I have stacked up into this space, it would reach 50. It can be daunting, and a lot is at stake, but here’s what I’ve learned along the way that’s surprised me:

  1. Surprisingly, I can actually multi-task projects. I can work across the board on 2-3 different creative endeavors in one day, in the span of a few hours. This really helps with efficiency, or it can help you go mad, depending on how your brain works, ha. But for now, I’m able to flip switches, start paintings, and work on multiple canvases at once without getting confused.
  2. I have NOT neglected myself or my health. I can squeeze in a quick session at the gym a few times a week. Since I prefer to start painting at sunrise, I don’t have to stay up late at night either and throw off my body’s internal clock. This is great, and also means I am keeping anxiety at bay, which is never nice at any time in life.
  3. I do not have to neglect my house and personal life. I can cook a healthy meal and keep up with gist or the illusion of an orderly home. I can also meet with friends for a few hours or enjoy my favorite show on the couch with my guy. I’ve also squeezed in a few reiki energy sessions to keep my chakras in balance and hopefully my spiritual side as well.
  4. I have not hit a creative block and can keep generating ideas as I continue to work. This is huge. Something I’m obviously very grateful for at the moment because, let me just tell you, there’s nothing more frustrating than having to paint and feeling fresh out of inspiration or motivation. This is usually a sign that you need to take a break, and while I am approaching this point, it hasn’t stopped the creative flow.
  5. I can evaluate propositions and determine if it is of benefit to me. Recently, I was faced with the dilemma of selling the rights to artwork I had created to an interested party for the use of their business. There’s a whole load of opinions and articles out there on art licensing and how to navigate the space. Fortunately, I have been doing my own reading on the matter for a while now so wasn’t completely bamboozled when the topic came up. There are still lots of details and terms to hash out, but bottom line, I’m up for the challenge of figuring it out. Even if we agree to part ways at the end, I’m not afraid to at least learn more.
  6. I can take risks in my work and try out new ideas. This has been really fun. I’ve been using new materials and experimenting with different imagery and color palettes to give life to my new body of work. I don’t ever want to get stuck in a routine in my art making. I think the work that really resonates with people is often the piece that I stumbled upon through my own exploratory period and fascination. Maintaining that level of spontaneity in a series is of course, very difficult, but a worth goal in my opinion.

And that’s really all there is to it. I’m juggling a lot, but I can’t complain. I’m busy, but good busy. Stressed, but good stressed if there’s such a thing. Today, I also just launched my new print collection, and hope that people will enjoy these affordable offerings.

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So yes, there’s so much more to being an artist or painter than sitting at the easel and painting. I love reading about other artists’ journeys, so I hope what I shared was an interesting nugget about the daily grind.

Meanwhile, I know things will slow down soon hopefully, right? Ramadan is a month away and I know that will force me to slow down a bit. But I can’t help but daydream about being on an island somewhere under a palm tree sipping coconut water. Any ideas for a quick weekend getaway? 🙂

And how do you recharge when you’re reallllllly busy?

Amira

Updates from NJ: Latest Veiled Figurative Originals

Hello, hellooo!

I’ve been home now for about 2 weeks and getting pretty cozzied up in my hometown of NJ. Weather’s warming up (yay) and the pizza is better than ever.11008396_464456390375173_954135187563293803_nI recently shared my latest collection of veiled figurative women via my newsletter.

They are ghostly, secretive, anonymous, mysterious, feminine, serene, and beautiful all at once.

And here they are. You can click on each image to take you to my store. Most of them are already gone (love you wonderful art lovers!):

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“The Council” 24×31″ diptych, acrylic on canvas, SOLD
"Red Summer" 16x20" acrylic on canvas, Reserved
“Red Summer” 16×20″ acrylic on canvas, Reserved
Bridesmaids_amira-rahim_web
“Bridesmaids” 24×24″ acrylic on canvas
"The Wedding II" 24x24" acrylic on canvas, Available
“The Wedding II” 24×24″ acrylic on canvas, Available

That’s all. It’s important to remember to see the positives in anything. I love being able to interact directly with the people who love and collect my art. Nothing beats that in my opinion. So, I was happy to list them on my website as soon as possible. Several people already expressed interest in these new pieces and were happy when I was finally able to offer them for sale.

In the meantime, I cannot NOT paint for longer than like a week. The creative juices are flowing. So, naturally, I am on my mom’s kitchen table making little abstract paintings on paper and spreading my art gear all over the living room. Bless my family for putting up with me. Thankfully, they are loving the colorful messes popping up and freely offering their art critiques. It’s been fun. (Peek on Instagram @amirarahimart or search #amirainNJpaintings)

More on that later. Life’s good. Don’t stress too much. People are infinitely kind.

Thanks for reading xx

www.amirarahim.com

Current Mood

 

 

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I’ve been on this minimalist kick for the past 48 hours. Partly because my back has been unsettled since I’ve been visiting family and in unfamiliar mattress territory, and decided to sleep on the carpeted floor. And, partly because I love me some black and white, neutral spaces with lots of sunlight. These pictures just took me away.

How do these images make you feel? Would you ever sleep on the floor? Eat on the floor? Live this minimal?

 

[Source: Pinterest]

A Self-Portrait & Reflections on Identity

4 am. Jet lag. I write this post from the comforts of my mom’s apartment after a 14-hour flight back to the Western world. I’ve had much to be anxious about on my return home after over a year. But as I left my current home in Abu Dhabi, I began to realize just how unsettling some of my anxieties were.

"Self Portrait" in progress
“Self Portrait” in progress

I began this painting on Friday morning and completed it throughout the day. Saturday, I sat fussing about it after considering several things to change and improve, but ultimately I decided to leave it as it is. It is my entry, my self-portrait, and the cause for much self-reflection.

Much of it is surrounding the irony of the self-portrait itself. In January, I pronounced my commitment to completing 30 paintings in 30 days and that I would attempt to paint just faces. Naturally, my own face should have been included in the mix, if not the first of my many paintings. However, I struggled to come to terms with the impossible task of my self-portrait and all that it could be. After all, how could I reveal to you a true image of myself, when a big part of me is always hidden?

And though I finally picked up the brush 3 days ago, it was not without great contemplation. Being a graduate of sociology, I am no stranger to discussing identity. As such, I found myself having a conversation in my own head as I painted this piece:

Is our identity shaped by what people see of us publicly?

Does our public image determine what we feel internally about ourselves?

And ultimately, does my decision to wear a headscarf reduce the complex nature of my existence as a daughter, wife, sister, citizen, thinker, writer, artist, traveler, and whatever else, to the one-dimensional caricature of the modern Muslim woman?

Perhaps, since I became a “muhajiba” (woman who observes hijab) one autumn evening 6 years ago during a 4-month study abroad stint in London, I have become used to inhabiting multiple places and identities once. Other people’s projections seem to be ignited with the mere sight of “that thing on my head” and I have grown accustomed to the harsh reality that the light fabric draped ever so carefully above my head hangs heavy with burden, fear, and admonishment. I am no stranger to this.

But, as I stared into the form of my own reflection, I no longer saw myself. I saw the people that came before me. My grandparents, namely, and the rich stories that have made up my family history.

My ancestors are gloriously painful characters, figures etched in time forever marred by the unfortunate eras in which they were born. Hailing from the South, the plantations, the farms that bore the fruit of American prosperity, they are soft, strong and tortured images in my head formed at a tender age of curiosity.

My maternal great-great grandmother was an American Indian. Her children’s children’s still reside in the farmlands of Virginia. I often smile when I kiss my grandma’s cheeks, her copper skin, red like the clay dirt that my mother used to play in as a child, spending summers “down South”. As a kid, it was my sole responsibility to brush her long shiny waist-length hair, first black, then peppery, and now silver. I can still feel the grease of a 99 cent jar of petroleum jelly sliding through my fingers as I brushed her hair from her head to the seat of her wooden chair.

"Self Portrait" cropped closeup
“Self Portrait” cropped closeup

Like any portrait, the eyes are the most important, and most difficult. When I drew my own, I thought about how these eyes do not belong to me alone. I share the same strong gaze of my paternal grandfather, A. Lovelace, a stern man with a troubled childhood from the Carolinas. He would migrate to New Jersey on his on as a teenager, orphaned. He passed away before I was too young to form many memories of him, other than me sitting as a kid in our kitchen, the same kitchen my dad grew up in in Vailsburg, Newark, New Jersey.  I still remember him giving me after-dinner mints from a heavy glass bowl even though I didn’t have dinner.

My skin, my eyes, my hair, though covered all weave together reminding me of the little fragments of my own American History. When I think of my predecessors, I wonder, would they be proud of me today? Would they recognize me as one of their own?

I don’t know the answers to these questions but it seemed fitting that they came when they did. Returning home and spending time with family grounds us, reminds us of who we are and where we’re from.

"Self Portait" 24x20" acrylic on canvas
“Self Portait” 24×20″ acrylic on canvas

Admittedly, I’m self-conscious at times. I know I shouldn’t, but I wonder what the world sees when they look at me. I try not to think about it too much, obviously, as these thoughts can be debilitating. My return flight home reminded me just how uncomfortable I can feel at “home” vs. being a foreigner in the UAE.

But, I ask myself, am I my self portrait? No. I think I am much more than the two-dimensional painting of myself, and one-dimensional narrative of one facet of my human experience.

Thank you for reading.

P.S. Painting myself was really enjoyable! Even though it is a serious, maybe moody rendition of myself, I enjoyed capturing the more serious (albeit dominating) side of my personality. It’s not a perfect painting, but it’s me! I hope to do more in the future!