I Am Consistent
Getting rejected sucks. After putting hours and hours of work into such a strange thing as art, we scramble to win one of the few opportunities to get our work shown, or to get some funding. So we dole out the $35+ it costs to get someone to look at a picture of our art and tell us “no.” Again, and again.
Rejection triggers self-reflection. Why am I doing this? Is it worth it? Does it really matter? I could just be focusing all of my energies on raising my son, instead of splitting time between him and scrambling to find time to paint, to write (to shower). Do people even care to see paintings of American Muslim women, women who are diverse, who live here, and work alongside the rest of us; who are empowered, and passionate, and beautiful, and don’t all look the same or have the same story? I mean, if I knew a bunch of sad women in burqas, that’s what I’d be painting. But I don’t. These are the women I know, and they are smart as hell, and they inspire me, and they clearly don’t need a bunch of entitled jerks to save them, or show them what being civilized looks like…and clearly, I think they are awesome. Do we want to also hear of the women who flourish? Do they matter? If they aren’t “exotic”? Do we care about them, since they don’t need us, since we can’t feel sorry for them (and as a result, somehow better about ourselves)? I’m not trying to deny that many women struggle, and that these paintings do not represent every woman’s story, every American Muslim woman’s story, but there is space for multiple truths.
I’m fairly new at all this, at putting myself out there, at applying for grants and juried exhibitions. And, really, I don’t think that I need to take these rejections personally, or think that it means I should change. I think we’ve all heard that story, of a creative person who is rejected over and over again in their life. And then they finally get that break, something finally works out, and we can’t even imagine why, how, anyone could have ever told them no. But sometimes believing in myself is exhausting, and it all feels selfish and narcissistic. Like I must be totally detached from reality, and really full of myself, to keep trying to make this work.
But I do… I keep trying. And the bottom line, the absolute bottom line, is that I love what I do. I love what I make. And even if not one other person wanted to see my art, even if I don’t ever get grants, or into galleries… I want to look at it. And I am terrible at, or hate, just about everything else anyway. hahaha
On a lighter note, check out this photorrealistic sketch of my husband’s mutant feet.
And yes, that says “green boa?” on the top left…
This is the largest painting I have completed to date (the third painting of the “An-Noor” series). It is six feet tall and four feet wide. I learned a lot through the process. In my sketches, I left a number of details unplanned (how exactly to deal with the negative space in the background, what is she sitting on?, what is that book in her lap?)… which would have been fine, except that it takes a lot of time (and paint) to try to figure these details out on the canvas. It took me three months to paint, and repaint, and repaint, this portrait.
If you scroll through the gallery, it is clear that I started out thinking that the painting would have a red background. This painting almost broke me in two. I remember looking at the layers of red in the around the sun and finally allowing myself to admit, “It’s beautiful, but it’s not right.” And I knew for sure that I had to paint over all those hours of work, that I had to redo the mess that I had made of the gold leaf. I may or may not have cried. Of course, immediately after doing so, I wondered if I was making a huge mistake. But it wasn’t a mistake. I had to trust my instincts, and push through it, and I love the final image. She is life-size-ish, and the gold leaf (my first time using this material) is f@*king brilliant. When I photographed it, it reflected the sunlight so strongly it hurt my eyes.
Dina is posed as Norman Rockwell’s Rosie the Riveter. I don’t want to go into great detail describing the imagery/symbolism in the spine of the book, or the sunflower… because I feel that it comes across? I would encourage you, however, to look closely at the spine of the book for some symbols of this woman and her power. Dina is a wonderful and inspiring woman. She grew up in North Carolina, and identifies with both her Southern and Egyptian roots. Who says collared greens and grape leaves don’t belong on the same plate? ❤
Here is a gallery of pictures that shows the process (most are cellphone pics).
A friend of ours gifted us with two enormous boxes of baby clothes, and basically has single-handedly clothed (and cloth-diapered) our child for the past six months. Not to mention, I actually really like the clothes she gave us, so our kid looks super cool in his vintage duds. I wanted to make her something to say thank you, so I found a picture of her son on Facebook and used it in a collage. It was a small project that turned into something much bigger… and by the time I had finished the collage, it was pretty clear that it *needed* a story to go with it. So here’s the collage, and the story that accompanies it… the story is directly derived from the image, so you can find all of the characters in the collage. The whole project has some parallels to the larger painting series I’m working on, An-Noor.
The sun broke through the earth.
Took a bright and hot breath
on the edge of the horizon,
And then got back to work, rising.
Skimming light across the fields of grass,
Casting long shadows,
Creeping up the sides of the houses,
Reaching its glittery arms through glass,
And tickling the nose of one particular little boy
Tucked warmly into his bed.
A very special little boy,
like a spark!
Straightened his tie
And put on his crown.
A sense of purpose
Setting his feet in motion,
As they made their way out
Into a wide open world
Full of magic.
He strode out into the crisp morning,
Walk-skip-running and walking again.
Leaves and twigs
Beneath his feet.
Aven played hide-and-seek
With the sun.
He, darting behind tree trunks.
She, slipping behind clouds.
When suddenly, Aven heard a whisper
in the grass,
Yet saw nothing there.
But wait! Could it be?
Shadowcats are strange.
Sharp and precise dark edges
Shift into layers of imprecise grays,
“Well, meow, Aven.
Fancy seeing you here.
What brings you out on this fine day
With such purpose in your eyes?
You see, I too am on a mission
Rustling up some fireflies!”
With that, a glowing orb rose from the tall grass,
And dispersed –
A dozen lighting bugs ablaze!
So illuminating that the shadowcat
Dissolved into the lightness.
They buzzed around Aven so fast,
Zips of light
Tugging on his collar,
The hem of his pants.
As if to say,
“Hurry up! Follow me!”
As he tried to wave away the glittering pests,
He heard the crystalline voice of the shadowcat:
“These sparkling creatures,
I must beseech you,
Treat them with some respect.
They neither bite nor sting,
What a wondrous thing,
In a buzzing and flying insect!
These insects of gold
Are oft foretold
To lead one in the right direction.
So don’t be smug
Put your trust in these bugs,
And you may soon
Make a friendly connection.”
The fiery flies flew
Through the woods.
One settled contentedly
On Aven’s crown,
Taking a much needed break from flying.
The lightning bugs teased
A tiny bronze elephant
Who stomped around in the grass,
Then watched them pass with a curious gaze.
“Chirp chirp, hello!”
A friendly little bluebird greeted them
From its perch atop a prickly bush of roses.
“Your eyes are blue
Just like my feathers!
And I can help you
To find your treasure!
What is it you seek, dear boy?”
Before Aven could answer,
The rosebush began to quiver.
His huge, golden antlers
Gleamed in the sunlight
As he shook off leaves and roses.
“Hi! I’m Barnard!”
He said in his big, moosey voice.
Barnard flashed a wide grin,
Punctuated by a gold tooth.
“I’ve heard about you,
You must be Aven!
I can tell by your crown and your tie.
You see, me and Blue
Are very good luck,
And you seem like a pretty cool guy.
My antlers, they tell me things
That might be of use to you,
And they’re telling me something right now.
They say that next time the wind blows,
Watch where the leaves go,
And you will see something to make you say ‘wow!’”
Just as the words left Barnard’s mouth,
A breeze pushed its way through the woods,
Lifted high into the trees,
Urging leaves to leave their branches
And discover the joy of being free
And to fall.
Dozens of spheres
Copper and pink,
Defied gravity as they drifted
Toward a raven in the sky.
The bird flew with abandon,
And you’d never guess,
That this was his first time flying alone.
And it was when Aven
Saw the raven,
That he realized just what all this was about.
Aven had set out this morning
In search of a feeling
And now he knew just where find it.
With a “Thank you, Goodbye!”
He spun on his heel,
And off through the woods he winded.
He saw her as he rounded the corner.
With a smile crinkling her eyes,
And her arms outstretched.
And this was what
He had been looking for,
The feeling of a hug.
Of a warm hand on your back
As you slip into sleep.
Of feeling, at once,
So big and so small.
Of falling gently
into the cushiony earth,
With loving arms around you.
The feeling of someone watching,
Keeping you safe,
So you can soar ever upward,
Gaze fixed on the sun.
Well hello, The Internet! I’ve created this blog to chronicle the process behind my paintings and other art-ventures.
Right now, I’m preparing for my next exhibit at Ravenscroft School. I’m installing on January 7th (almost exactly a month from now). I went to Ravenscroft from kindergarten through 12th grade (what’s known as a “lifer,” you know, like jail) , so I look forward to showing my art in a place that was such a big part of my life.
I will be showing “Technicolor Muslimah,” a series of 12 portraits of Muslim women. You can see them here: www.artbysaba.com/technicolormuslimah
I’m also working on a new series called “An-Noor” (in Arabic) or “The Light.” (completed paintings are also on my site, on the homepage). I have three paintings completed so far and am working on the 4th one. I’m trying to get the 4th one done in time for the Ravenscroft show.
Here is a picture of the 6′ x 4′ (72″ x 48″) painting I am currently working on:
The imagery is derived from Ayat An-Noor, or the Verse of Light, from the Quran.
God is the Light of the heavens and the earth.
The parable of His Light is a niche wherein is a lamp—
the lamp is in a glass,
the glass as it were a glittering star—
lit from a blessed olive tree,
neither eastern nor western,
whose oil almost lights up,
though fire should not touch it.
Light upon light.
As wikipedia describes it, this “verse is renowned for its remarkable beauty and imagery, and perhaps more than any other verse lends itself to mystical or esoteric readings of the Qur’an.” As I looked further into interpretations of this verse, I found some wonderful things that really allowed the imagery to blossom in my mind.
This guy, Al-Ghazali, wrote a lot about this verse, and said that it is meant to show not only God’s distance and absolute transcendence, but also his proximity and inherent presence. I did not get a sense of this during my Sunday School days. I felt that God’s omnipresence was not a comfort, but kind of a “Big Brother is watching you” and recording all of your sins for the day of judgment kind of thing. Once again, that God was separate from me. To be feared. And also that God is a “he,” of course. And pronouns are somehow even more of a limiting kind of word for such a big idea to be stuck inside. Words like God, and Allah, carry around the baggage of their history, of the politicized and stratified present day, and it can sometimes be difficult to leave that baggage behind when considering the idea of god… I sometimes use the word “Light” in my mind because it has such a vastness to it. It exists in all these different realms as something concrete, but also… not at all concrete. And it thrives in metaphor. I know others use the word “Source.” Surely, any words we use are inherently limiting and constricting, but we need words to communicate. Of course, we can always paint pictures, too.
Anyway, here is some of what I found, mixed in with my own interpretations.
The Niche: A place, a space, made specifically for the lamp. This represents the human body, the physical body.
The Glass: reflects light, contains light, diffuses light. A transparent medium through which the light passes to illuminate. It is a protective shield. It exists between the external world (the senses) and the internal world (of the spirit). It is the mind, the mental body. The glass can change the nature of the light – if it’s dirty, it can mess it up, misguide. If it is clean and passive, it allows for the light to shine through and diffuse, lighting every dark corner of a room. It is like a brilliant star, which guides the way, creates a pathway.
The Tree/The Oil: The oil that fuels the fire comes from an olive tree that is neither eastern nor western. More literally, this means that it receives an even and constant amount of sunlight. It is a tree that comes from a balanced environment. The oil is so pure that it almost lights on its own. The tree with its roots in the earth, reaches up towards the skies. The oil is the reservoir, is the spiritual body, is the source of knowing. It is most pure when it comes from balance, when it belongs to no particular tribe.
The Flame: The flame is truth, is god… burning, purifying, illuminating, warming, transforming So I looked into olive trees, and wow. They can live for thousands of years. Legit – Thousands of years. Carbon dated, ridiculous fact. And as they age, they don’t just keep growing taller, but instead wider, and the trunk becomes more gnarled and complex, all while hollowing out inside! Becoming more and more spacious, internally! What in the symbolism.
So the nature of an actual olive tree lends itself well to this image – where the oil lamp sits in a niche. The gnarls and knots of an olive tree trunk create plenty of “niches.”
Referring back to the painting in progress, the figure (her name is Nushmia), sits at the base of the olive tree, and she is clearly a part of the tree… the roots bend and curve around her form. She’s got her own “niche,” if you will. I imagined that the space where she sits resembles, also, a womb… that sacred space within a woman. And all of it, to me, really emphasizes the importance of internal space. The oil lamp will be attached to the tree, on that knot to the right of Nushmia’s head.
I think it’s going well so far… but I can see that there is a lot more work I’ll have to do. Once I get Nushmia to a level of almost-completion, I’ll have to develop the olive tree. I need to add some smaller branches, and then a bunch of texture to get the feeling of bark. I’m nervous about all the work, but excited. Nushmia’s sitting in a patch of grass and clovers. I will be adding a (hopefully subtle) geometric pattern into the purple of the background (I’ll be making my own stencil for the first time!). And then I’m going to add the lamp and try to figure out how the lamp’s light will affect all of the objects that are in the painting. I used gold leaf on my last painting (of Dina, with the big, gold leafed sun)… and it’s a brilliant material (literally). I’m hoping to use it for some fireflies that’ll be buzzing around.