That Time When Suki Waterhouse Signed My Painting

So, I have been keeping quiet for weeks now and I can finally share! A few months ago, I was commissioned by The Anasya Media company to create a painting for a VIP movie screening in London, UK. The event took place on June 15th and was a massive success.

I ended up creating a massive 4ft x 4ft painting as their updated advert and statement piece. I also created some artwork that served as additional decor for the event. Some of the big names in attendance included Suki Waterhouse, the UAE ambassador in London Abdulrahman Ghanem, Almutaiwee, Sheikh Shakhbout Bin Nahyan, and Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak himself. I guess you never know where your art will take you! Here is a look at the exciting debut:

Dr. Katherine Hennessy
Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak
Suki Waterhouse in attendance
Suki Waterhouse signing her autograph
I am having a really exciting time meeting new faces and saying yes to new opportunities in Abu Dhabi and beyond. Besides this, I am preparing for two events during this Ramadan as well as an exhibition in California this summer that I will be announcing shortly.


In the meantime, I am still busy in the studio doing what I love most: painting!  Here’s some of the latest pieces off the easel:

 “Sisterly Love” mixed media, 24×24″ canvas, Info

“Chosen” (20×30″ canvas) is my latest figurative painting featuring 3 women turned away. The incohesive yet subtle script and strong contrast makes for a dramatic piece, yet in a beautiful color scheme. I have not yet listed this piece on my website but if you are interested in purchasing it, please email me.
As always, thank you so much for following along!

 

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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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Finding Inspiration in Oman

Back from Oman this weekend and I had the trip of a lifetime! A few weeks ago, I was asked by Zee Arts to join 9 other artists to represent the UAE in Oman for a cultural exchange. We were met with 10 Omani artists and our fantastic hosts Paragon Arts Community.

As you can see, I found much inspiration in this beautiful country. It was a feast for the eyes. The arabic lanterns, the souks, the people, and the amazing landscape. It was quite refreshing and I found it much needed as a refuge and break from the day to day grind in my studio.

On the last day of our trip, we participated in live painting at a mall in Muscat. We were joined by two great musicians and it proved to be a very conducive environment for painting.

Here is a video of what I ended up working on:

Back home, I completed the piece and it is now available on my website.

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

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!

Sand, Safari and Bedouins

Hey you! It’s been a sandy weekend. Abu Dhabi has seen one of the most intense sandstorms ever and left much of us indoors for the past few days. We almost cancelled our safari booking, but decided to just bear the brunt of the storm and hope for the best.  Fortunately, I was able take advantage of one of my last few days in Abu Dhabi before vacation and enjoy a traditional desert safari. In a few more weeks it will be too hot to bear!

The camels, dunes, and blanket of stars at night made for an unforgettable experience. Here are some of the photos from yesterday.

 

The timing couldn’t have been better. I am diving deeper and deeper into my collection of figurative abstract women and I managed to complete a set of Bedu women on canvas.

"Bedu 1" 20x30" acrylic and gesso on canvas, SOLD
“Bedu 1″ 20×30” acrylic and gesso on canvas, SOLD
"Bedu 2" 20x30" acrylic and gesso on canvas, SOLD
“Bedu 2″ 20×30” acrylic and gesso on canvas, SOLD

I am happy to say they have already gone to a swift and trusty collector of mine (thank you, if you’re reading!). I will be doing more with this motif in the future. I love the monochrome scheme for this theme, and I think it lends to the nostalgic quality of these figures that move me so much. I may also explore them in red.

If you have any feedback or more ideas, feel free to share in the comments below!