Laila in Rainbows

“Verily, with hardship comes ease.” Quran 94:5

Laila in Rainbows (With Hardship Comes Ease) is an interpretive portrait of Laila Nur, “a self-taught singer, songwriter and guitarist originally from New York and currently living in Greensboro, NC. Raised Sunni Muslim and now a proud Lesbian and activist, she applies her life journey to the music she coins ‘Revolutionary Love Music’: a musical experience for equal love and global connectedness.”  Check. her. out.

I met Laila at the Carrack Modern Art in January of this year.  I saw her perform while my series “An-Noor” was being shown.  In the following months, she has become a very dear friend of mine.

Though this painting is clearly reminiscent of the halo imagery and Islamic patterning that was present throughout the “An-Noor” series, this piece is not a part of that series.  It stands alone.  And unlike the golden halos of An-Noor, Laila’s is silver – full of curved lines and the phases of the moon, flowering behind her head.  She looks directly at the viewer, and I hope the viewer feels that they are laying in the grass with her, sharing a warm and intimate moment.

In much of my work, I aim to demonstrate layered identities through layered imagery – moving between symbolic design and realism.  In this piece, an Islamic pattern is integrated over a rainbow flag.  The straightforward nature of the symbolism is present (in part) because I made this painting for the “Truth to Power” show at Pleiades Gallery, a show centered around communicating messages of social justice through art.  To me, that partly means foregoing abstraction (not that I make abstract work anyway) in favor of accessible imagery.  This painting is meant to demonstrate one facet of the beautiful diversity of the LGBTQ community and the Muslim community, intersecting in a bed of clovers.  The message – a love that persists across the sometimes messy boundaries of identity.

There is a permeating notion that we must curate our identities to tell a story that is linear, and “makes sense” within a world that defines everything through contrasts – a person is defined not only by who they are, but who they aren’t.  It seems that every positive assertion of identity – “I am a woman” – can only be understood through a boundaried negative assumption – “I am not a man.”  These are ideas that I have been exploring through much of my work, most often dealing with the assumed contradiction of “Muslim” and “American.”  How can we define ourselves in a way that is positive and expansive, that is additive?  Can we do this without being contradictory?  And must contradiction equal dishonesty?  Perhaps it is in these moments – where ideas collide and break apart – that truth lives.

To see the painting in person:
Truth to Power 2
July 15 – August 2

Third Friday Reception and Open Mic on the Plaza: July 18th, 6-9 pm
Artists’ Talk and “People’s Choice Award”: July 24th, 6-9 pm
Pleiades Gallery
109 E Chapel Hill Street, Durham NC