Hope you’re well. These last few weeks have been somewhat of a storm for me, but I’m embracing the rain. April showers bring May flowers right? I’ve had some amazing opportunities come up and I’m scrambling to get it all done. More details on that in a future post. But for now, I wanted to share with you something I’ve been doing on the side as well.
A lovely client contacted me in March right before my vacation with a desire to commission an original painting from me. She liked my style of work and we agreed to meet in person to discuss her vision. Many commissions begin with a photograph or an idea. This client had come across an old photograph of a Bedouin lady as shown below.
The photograph really spoke to her. It just so turns out that I, too, have been collecting vintage photographs of the “Old UAE”, particularly of the women. The photos are usually black and white, the women’s faces are always covered in a traditional burka mask revealing only their eyes. It amazes me how emotional I get when I look at these images. To many foreigners, these photos show the mysterious, elusive nature of the Islamic world with veiled women being the main subject. But for me, these photos seem to take me back in time to a people that worked very hard and in the harshest conditions.
Women carrying water jugs on their heads, men fishing and diving for pearls, camels being transported and cared for, bedouin merchants in the city souks. These pictures are nothing short of a “Night at the Museum” movie for me without all of the animation.
Anyway, it is my task and artist to take these black and white photos and reinvent them with color and modern elements. To breathe life into a time that now ceases to exist. It is magical.
For this commission, I worked on a fairly large canvas 24×36″. I worked primarily with acrylics, but I knew I was going to work in some gold leafing as well. This mixed media component adds texture and a reflective quality that could not be achieved with paint alone. The title “Smiling Eyes” comes from my client herself and I think it’s very fitting.
Here is my rendition of the portrait. I emailed progress photos as the painting progressed so I could make any adjustments to the work. Thankfully, after a few emails of updates and feedback, I’m happy to say my client is pleased and told me “it’s perfect!”. This painting will be set for pick up this week.
Thank you for reading. I am currently still open for commissions (both abstracts and figurative) for June. Feel free to contact me at amira.rahim@gmail if you’d like to set up a consultation.
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.
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.
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.
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!
The weekend finally came after a long week of painting, art classes, and general life crap.
Started with dinner out at P. F. Changs.
I love love love Asian food. Thai, Chinese, Japanese are my favorites in that order. So this was a happy start to the weekend.
Yesterday we went to go see Maleficent, which was hands down the greatest Disney movie ever.
Angelina Jolie was absolutely stunning. Her performance, as always, blew me away. Love her movies and this one was a nice addition!
I spent the rest of the afternoon staring at the art on Nando’s walls instead of finishing my food.
This wasn’t even half of the amazing art collection at the restaurant chain. Very impressed and this just inspires me to keep chasing my dream of being a full-time artist. Anything can happen!
Finally, I did this illustration last night before bed. Every time I get henna done I’m inspired to incorporate the delicate designs into my art somehow. This illustration is called “I Bet the Bees Play in Her Hair” and marries my love for curly Afros with black and white illustration.
What are you guys up to this weekend? Any new inspirations?