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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Instagram: @amirarahimart

 

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New Techniques and Inspiration in the Studio

Creating art on a daily basis is no easy feat. It’s so rewarding, but can take a lot out of you and not in ways one would expect. The most obvious example is the ever-present idea of Inspiration. What is it and how do we cultivate it? Can you lose it? Can you sustain it over long periods of time?

These are the questions that I’ve been exploring lately in my own practice and I’m happy to say the results have been positive. I feel happy and healthy when I am in the studio and when I am not. Outside of the studio. This is key. Many people artists, and others alike, may think of the creative process as starting in the studio. But for many of us, it begins well before we enter our caves and grab our brushes.

I have found this increasing need to fill my artist well, as Julia Cameron discusses in “The Artist Way” (great read, btw). And part of the way I am learning to fill the well is by taking care of myself, spiritually, emotionally, and physically. Traveling (or even just looking at places to travel), enjoying a slow afternoon, or spending time with family are all ways I like to recharge.

These last few weeks have been a flurry of deadlines, traveling to Oman, and preparing for a very exciting exhibition (more to come on this later). In between my “have-to’s”, I’ve also been painting a series of camels, giraffes, and more abaya women, just because it brings me joy and it’s fuels me creatively.

But, that’s a lot of canvas. That’s a lot of painting. Some days I get stuck. I feel frustrated, and I know it’s time to take a break. Go have a cup of tea or meet a friend outside for lunch. It’s a give and take.

I’ve been really excited, however, at this increasing interest in textiles and patterns. I’ve been watching and reading about surface pattern design from a distance now for the past two years. It’s fascinating to me how illustrators can turn a drawing into a vector and repeat pattern and then have it placed on a product. What artist doesn’t want to see their art go as far into the world as possible? While I have a strong handle on illustrating and I never shy away from drawing, design seemed way out of my reach, like some luxury item only for a girl to dream of.

Until recently. I am finding ways to incorporate pattern and texture into my work in ways I could have never anticipated. I am able to work out some of the imagery that’s been playing in my mind now for months and this is only the beginning. I am adding to my visual vocabulary daily, and quite frankly, it’s torture! I have soooo much buzzing on in my head but it just needs an outlet, some graphic design, and lots of planning. Patience, Amira, patience (never been my strong suit).

Here are some of the fun things I’ve been doing in my latest release of paintings, coming soon:

Stencil

I find these arabesque Islamic geometric art very inspiring. I am trying to incorporate this all. This picture is from my recent trip to Oman.
I find these arabesque Islamic geometric art very inspiring. I am trying to incorporate this all. This picture is from my recent trip to Oman.

Stencils and giraffe

 

stencil and camel

Collage

 

 

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.

 

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.

 

And of course, playing around with gold leaf. This is from my last commission of a Bedouin woman.
And of course, playing around with gold leaf. This is from my last commission of a Bedouin woman.

Modeling Paste

Modeling paste is applied to my canvas using a palette knife. It is a very nice ground for painting on and the end results are quite stunning.
Modeling paste is applied to my canvas using a palette knife. It is a very nice ground for painting on and the end results are quite stunning.
You can see the effects on a piece almost finished. It creates this sense of delicacy and texture that I really enjoy for this series.

 

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So, these are just some of the things I’ve been adding into my art practice. Would love to know what you are doing differently in your art practice if you’re an artist. And just in general, if not, how do you recharge and get inspired after a burnout?

30 in 30: Day 17 Abstract Figurative Painting

"Souk Dwellers at Dawn" 12x16" acrylic on canvas, Available
“Souk Dwellers at Dawn” 12×16″ acrylic on canvas, Available

It’s me again! Today I finished up this painting that I started last week. I was pulling from several different images and ideas, and just worked through them intuitively. I love this series! The yellow glow reminded me of sunrise so I decided to include dawn in the title somehow.

I’m still two days behind on the 30 in 30 challenge, so I will be trying to post two paintings each day. Fortunately, I have had no shortage of inspiration this month so the ideas are literally more than the canvas available.

Thanks for viewing!

30 in 30: Day 15 Abstract Figurative Painting

"Tahajjud" 12x24" acrylic on canvas, Available
“Tahajjud (Night Prayer)” 12×24″ acrylic on canvas, SOLD

This is the companion piece to my previous painting. This was also painted intuitively, no sketching, no references, just imagination. I really struggled to find the faces and people in this one, but slowly it came together. I wanted this one to be a little lighter in the background, and the white motif in the upper right corner gives an illusion of light and space. As the figures began to emerge in the piece, it formed somewhat of a crowd. There appears to be smaller figures on the floor, possibly children, or women resting. And then the three standing figures in the center are facing away.

As I finished this piece, I landed on the perfect title. It reminded me of a scene in a mosque because they appear to be in prayer. “Tahajjud” is the night prayer that is prayed by devout muslims, especially during the month of Ramadan. The ghost like quality of the women is offset by burst of colors to lift the energy.

Here are the pair. I think they really complement each other and could be hung side by side.

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

What do you see?

30 in 30: Day 14 Figurative Abstract Painting

"Sisters" 12x24" acrylic on canvas, Available
“Sisters” 12×24″ acrylic on canvas, SOLD

Back with more paintings for the day. I started this piece a few days ago. I knew I would be making a companion to it as I’m trying to develop my work more in series. These were painted completely intuitively. I mixed the colors on the canvas most of the time, and really wanted to explore a more muted, toned down color palette. This is one of the pair and features three women wearing a veil. It can be interpreted as a painting of Muslim women wearing the “abaya” or religious garb, but it not necessarily.

I knew that I wanted to incorporate figures in my abstract work for some time now. I have to say, it is difficult but also fun. Being in the Emirates has definitely influenced me as an artist, and seeing so many women wearing the abaya has inspired me to capture their graceful, yet mysterious presence.