Sweet Noor

I had said that the painting “Rebel” was the last painting in the An-Noor series.  When I found out I would get to show the series at the Carrack Modern Art in January, I felt strongly compelled to make another painting.  So I added this piece, which also turned out to be many people’s favorite in the series.

This painting is of one of my dearest friends.  In the image she is carrying her first child, a daughter that she named “Noor.”  The photograph I worked from was taken just a few days before Noor was born.



A few notes about the piece:
I wanted the background to feel as though it was inside of a womb.  It’s this safe space where she can connect to her child, imagine the future.
The green dress brings to mind the Arnolfini portrait, one of the most recognizable renderings of a pregnant woman.

by Jan Van Eyck

by Jan Van Eyck

I’m not sure that the An-Noor series is “finished.”  I see that this is a big conversation, and that the portraits in this project only scratch the surface of the diversity of American Muslim women.  There is much that is left unexplored here, so I’m open to expanding this series as I meet more women who inspire me.  But for now, I guess I punctuate An-Noor with a “…”

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QaRt Codes

We have an exciting group show coming to Pleiades Gallery this January called “transFORM.”  The show will be up from January 7th – February 15th, with an opening reception on January 17th from 6-9pm.

I focused specifically on transformation through technology.  I made five paintings.  Four of the pieces each explore about what is lost, or diminished, when experienced through technology.  To emphasize this message, the original painting was photographed, then completed painted over with a QR code.  The original painting can now only be accessed through scanning the QR code, each one “transFORMed” by technology, and now only existing in a virtual format.

One of the paintings has a slightly different message.  In this piece, titled “Golden Ticket,” the QR code’s URL will be updated at random intervals.  The person who owns this piece, or one of the 10 limited edition prints, will be given access to a unique “shared experience” through scanning the QR code.  I will be updating the URL will short videos, drawings, handwritten notes, etc.  As the artist, I will challenge myself to create a more intimate experience for this small group, by sharing things that are less guarded than what I post on Facebook, etc.  This piece explores the connections that could not be possible without technology.

I don’t want to say too much about the pieces specifically, because they are best experienced.  When you get to the URL with the image of the painting, look around for small messages and links to help you further experience the piece. It’s best to open this on a desktop or laptop and scan with your smartphone.  All the QR codes are hand-painted.

Rebel

Completed painting.  "Rebel" 20"x60"  Acrylic paint, gold leaf, rhinestones on canvas

Completed painting. “Rebel” 20″x60″ Acrylic paint, gold leaf, rhinestones on canvas

This is the last portrait in An-Noor.  It’s called “Rebel” and is 20″ x 60″ (same size as Inner Sun and American Desi).  I used gold leaf, rhinestones (in the necklace) and acrylic paint.

I crossed paths with the subject of this painting, Amarra, in September 2012.  We were both at an event where I was displaying some art.  Even though we didn’t really talk, we became Facebook and Instagram friends (gotta love social media).  After seeing some of the amazing selfies she posts, I had no choice but to ask if I could photograph her.  I had the opportunity to speak to Amarra at length before I took her picture.  She completely opened up, and the depth of our conversation made painting her feel natural and fluid.

All of us have friends who post selfies, but few actually tap into the potential of the selfie as more than just a form of documentation, but as an art form.  It’s a self-portrait.  It was clear from my conversation with Amarra that she has a natural ability to express her mood, her heritage, even her values, in the way that she presents herself.  To have the outside match the inside.  When this is combined with body language and environment, you can end up with a really dynamic image of a person.

So what I’m really trying to say, is that she showed up in this kick-ass outfit, gave me this powerful pose, and that is a huge part of why this painting turned out the way it did.

Check out the gallery for pictures of the process and detail shots.

Having painted the last subject, I think about how transformative this process has been. I came into this undertaking barely 26 years old, a new mother, with no established “career,” and just having earned a degree in teaching, not painting.

Listening to all these women has been one of the most special parts of this project.  We could skip the small talk and go straight to the real stuff.  All of them are so unique, and with each one, there was something, a quality of hers, a particular thing that she said or way that she said it, that has resonated with me.  With each painting, I was able to see some part of myself more clearly, by connecting to and reflecting the woman that I was painting.  I think we all can sometimes feel that whoever we are, however we are, isn’t good enough.  This healing kind of thing happened while working on this project – in recognizing the love and respect I have for each of these women, I found that I could also love and accept myself a little more.

Thank you to all who have participated in this with me!  You rock.

There is one painting (not a portrait) left to complete this series.  Stay tuned.

American Desi Explosion

I just finished another painting for An-Noor.  It is mixed media on canvas, with gold and silver leaf, acrylic paint, glitter, and rhinestones.  20″ x 60.”

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This painting is of my friend Sheeza and her daughter Sarah.  Sheeza was like an older sister to me growing up.  She is a natural leader, who loves to be challenged, and her daughter Sarah (4 at the time) wanted to be a fairy when she grew up so she could “do magic for all of her friends.”   I photographed them over a year ago, and I wanted their painting to emphasize Sheeza’s role as a mother, and a leader…to capture that magical quality of Sarah’s youth… and the connection between the two of them.  They were amazing during the photoshoot.

I styled this painting like “Inner Sun.”  After having worked with this layering of geometric and organic shapes once before, I felt like I was able to manipulate the design, colors, and materials to a much greater degree.  The most “energetic” part of the design is at the point of connection between Sheeza and Sarah.  Where their gaze meets.  This design is clearly born out of their relationship, expanding into a bright, bedazzled, American desi explosion over their heads.  And of course there is a “halo” of sorts that circles them.

I have been really submerging myself in the South Asian aesthetic, which is obvious in this painting.  My aim was to really push the boldness and the femininity.  I wanted the design to go”Pow!”  Since Maesta, I have been really feeling this pull towards adornment – beading, sequins, rhinestones, mica, pearls.  I want to harness these ultra-feminine materials in work that emphasizes feminine strength.  My heart tells me “more is more” and to “overdo” it.  But then when the painting is complete it doesn’t feel like too much, it even feels restrained.

I still need to come up with a title… will update when it comes to me.

Process and detail pictures in the gallery.

Tree of Life

This month at Pleiades Gallery, our show title is “Surge.”  Starting with this word, I worked to come up with an idea for a painting, but got sidetracked when I saw that a number of my Facebook friends had shared this link (Warning: the videos at the end of the article are extremely upsetting).

I don’t really know how to talk about all this.  I literally screamed when watching that video (I got through only part of one of them).  I still cry when I think about it, weeks later.  And that’s just a fucking video.

I’m still sitting here, with everything I could ever need, and I do not have to fear that someone will try to deliberately harm me, my toddler, or anyone I love.

After I watched that, I turned on the news.  I expected it to be on every news channel, with special reports.  There was nothing.

I went to all the news websites I usually read.  NOTHING.

And then a few days later, everyone was talking about Syria.  Everyone was suddenly an expert on it.   The whole discussion was extremely political.  Whether to invade or not.  Which groups of brown people are tied to which other, very scary, groups of brown people  It just seemed so disconnected, so irrelevant, maybe a deliberate attempt to stir up our partisan passions so that we wouldn’t see what is actually happening in our world.

I get that the US has got to take care of ourselves, that there’s plenty of awful shit to deal with in our own country.  There are children who fear for their lives when they walk to school every day, even here.  I’m not a proponent of bombs or violence as a general rule.  But I’m not talking about any of that.  How privileged are we, that we can discuss the pros and cons of military intervention, that we feel safe enough to say Obama is wrong, and broadcast these opinions on our Facebook pages… without ever once having to consider that this is all about people.  We can live our lives without even being *aware* of anyone else’s situation but our own.  That’s kind of a beautiful thing, I suppose, probably part of why my family came to this country.  But now everything is just about these assholes spitting out crazy hypotheticals on the news.  And when it comes to actual human beings frothing at the mouth and dying en masse, we can just turn a blind eye.  Snooki’s on dancing with the stars this season!  It’s all treated the same.

I also get that we can’t just walk around crying about all the awful stuff going on in the world.  And that it’s also okay to watch Snooki on Dancing with the Stars.  I know that you must take care of your own kids, and hug them tight, and keep them so safe.  But it all made me feel helpless and small, and now I’m writing a blog post about it.  Jeez.
So I say all of this without any kind of conclusion, or lesson, or resolve for how we should live our lives better or differently.  I have no answers.

I made some art about it.  The title of this piece is “Tree of Life” (someone actually came into the gallery before the painting had a title and made the comparison – thank you, whoever you are).  The picture isn’t the best.

mixed media: acrylic paint, gold and silver leaf, sequins, glitter

mixed media: acrylic paint, gold and silver leaf, sequins, glitter

I believe in beauty.  I wanted to make something beautiful.  But to me, this painting is sad.  The heart is frozen and the flowers are wilted, even though they sparkle.

I am donating 50% of this sale to this group, and iA the donation will be enough to provide a tent to shelter a family of 5.  This piece will be up through October 6th at Pleiades Gallery in Durham.  The show opens on Friday.

American Woman

This newest painting in the An-Noor series is a three paneled piece titled Maestà. The title means “Majesty” in Italian and “designates an iconic formula of the enthroned Madonna with the child Jesus, whether or not accompanied with angels and saints.” (wiki)

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The subjects are my friend Amani, her son, and twin daughters. She’s a badass mom whom I really respect and admire.

The most direct inspiration for the painting is Giotto’s Madonna Enthroned.
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When researching historical portraiture/iconography with strong and powerful figures, I came across many images of male political, military, religious figures, and superheroes. There were, however, a few notable exceptions (see Rosie the Riveter). The most striking of these exceptions are images of Mary, mother of Jesus. Her image has been produced and reproduced, she is immensely recognizable, but remains a dynamic figure.  Not to mention that she is an important figure in Islam as well as Christianity.  I feel that Mary, an embodiment of both strength and gentleness, was the perfect image to take on for this body of work, to explore motherhood as a part of female strength, because I think that a woman’s natural role as a mother is one that does not diffuse her power, but reflects it.


     

The American flag, which pretty clearly identifies the subjects as American, has a few references within it. In the stripes, I created an organic design that has a geometric pattern within it. The geometric pattern is a pretty typical Islamic pattern. I also included a bright green line into the stripes (complementary colors!) to give it a little kick.

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The stars are a reference to the blue domed church ceilings with gold or yellow stars. I saw many ceilings like this when I went to Italy as a 17 year old. They really stood out to me, but I hadn’t thought of them in years, until I started drafting this painting. I haven’t been able to find a definitive resource that explains the meaning of the starred church ceilings.  The most I could find was on this blog, where the author had the same question about the significance of these stars after seeing them in a number of churches.  She found that “painted yellow stars against a blue background on its vaulted ceiling [are] symbols of Saint Mary in Catholic tradition.”
  

There are also a couple of butterflies (yummy symmetry and beautiful metaphor) and a sunflower (in the boy’s hand, a reference to a previous painting). Adding these elements was pretty spontaneous and last minute, but I really love what they do for the painting.
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Technique/Materials
The stars were each made of six diamond-shaped pieces of cardstock that I cut with an exacto knife. I made a shallow cut down the middle of each diamond so they would fold in half cleanly. I would fold the diamond shape, fill it with gloss gel and modeling paste, then adhere to the canvas. Originally I had hoped to just sculpt the stars out of the modeling paste, but it was not rigid enough. I attempted to “pipe” the paste into star shapes as though I were using icing, but that was a big fail, as well. I had to try to scrape some of it off, which only kind of worked. It was a messy and tedious process (I don’t know how many hundreds of diamonds I had to cut and recut), but at the end, the stars look a lot like what I remember seeing in Italy so many years ago.
The stars were then painted and gold leafed, and traced. Some of them are silver, for fun.
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The halos are made from gold mica flake, gold sequins, modeling paste, and rhinestones. I used a butter knife to spread the modeling paste and mica flake.

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Around the blue area I used black glitter (on the bottom) and gold glitter at the top.
There is some pattern painted on top of the figures (most of it is towards the bottom of the canvas) with a silvery glaze that only appears at certain angles.

The patterning in the stripes was all drafted ahead of time using my Sketchbook app. For the figures, I spliced together a bunch of different photos (y’all know that it is impossible to get a family picture where everyone looks normal at the same instant).

This painting feels a bit different to me. I had to figure how to do a lot of new things, work with a lot of new materials, because just gold leaf and acrylic paint wasn’t going to cut it for this painting. I kept feeling like I needed to go “over the top” with the ornamentation on this piece, that I needed to do too much.  I think that the final product actually turned out pretty balanced, but that sentiment helped me to take it far outside my comfort zone.

I also am not so concerned with describing this painting’s meaning too specifically. It is both abundantly clear what this piece means, and open ended enough that I trust that whatever people get from it is accurate.

Check out the gallery for a few process pictures.

Inner Sun

I’m REALLY excited about this newest painting.  The making of this painting was very new to me… Using the Sketchbook app on iPad, I was able to take the level of design on this to a much higher level.  Not only am I thrilled with the experience and finished product of this painting, but I can see all sorts of possibilities for future work.  Which is invigorating.

“Maria (Inner Sun)” is 20″ x 60,” in acrylic paint, gold leaf, and glass beads (the liquitex medium)

BEFORE PAINTING:
I photographed this subject, Maria, almost a year ago.  She is actually doing zumba outdoors, but I cropped her body out of it.  Maria has an amazing personal story, and clearly, a beautiful smile.  In the complete photograph, Maria’s arms are outstretched, and the worm’s eye view shows the bright blue sky over her head.  Her body language, the smile on her face, her outstretched arms, and the vastness of the sky create an overwhelming feeling of freedom, openness, and connectedness with this great big world.  To translate this feeling into her painting was challenging… (which is why it has been so long since I photographed her!)  I fussed with this composition for a long time and scrapped a lot of ideas before I finally came up with the right imagery for her.

I created the design around Maria using the Sketchbook app.  I was able to draw freehand using a stylus, but as I drew, the app created a mirror image of every single element – perfect bilateral symmetry.  And then I was also able to reflect the bottom and top half of the image using the layering options.  This might be total child’s play compared to Photoshop, but I love that I am still drawing while using it.  I was able to edit the crap out of the design with relative ease.

PROCESS:
Basically I taped off the canvas and painted the shades of blue, the white and yellow beams, first.  Then I projected the design on top, and drew it on with white charcoal so I wouldn’t get pencil marks in the paint.  Then I painted the design in gold, then glued the gold leaf on top of that.  I painted Maria after I had finished the whole design.  The top of the painting – the pink/red… is covered in glass beads and comes off of the canvas about a 1/4.”  There was a lot of tedious fixing of edges and patching of gold leaf. Overall I spent a lot of time drafting this image and designing it, and actually making the painting was a super efficient process as a result.

Now the coolest thing about this painting, is that as I worked, the design got more and more and more complex.  I reversed positive and negative areas, I wove the white line through the gold leafed shapes…  I am just so excited about this experience, this whole new way of making art.  I would never dream of doing anything like this with pencil and paper.  Hoorayyyy technology!

I always worry about how to move forward, to get better, to challenge myself…  and I think that this emphasis on designs is where it’s at.  It is such a neat thing, to try to communicate meaning in these flat forms.  To make it all feel like something.  To draw it by hand.  It is like speaking a new language.  Suddenly I saw it everywhere – rugs, people’s clothes (I was particularly inspired by Jennifer Lopez’s dress at the Oscars?), my shower curtain…

The straight lines and geometric shapes on one layer, with organic lines curling over them in gold…It is this conversation between hard and soft, masculine and feminine.  They are separate elements, but they communicate with each other and effect each other.  Clearly I’m obsessed with all this.  And that’s the dragon that I am chasing when searching for inspiration… I can’t just be interested in it, I need to be obsessed.

SYMBOLISM:
The symbolism in this painting is not quite as straightforward as what I often do.  I have an enormous painting that I want to do next that is going to be exploding with pretty literal symbolic imagery (plus a whole bunch of organic and geometric designs).  But that’s later.

For now, look through the gallery for pictures of process and completed painting.  I have an excessive amount of pictures because it looks so cool from different angles.  The different shades of blue didn’t show up much in the final photographs for some reason… but it’s visible in other pictures.

Khuwailah, The Queen of Swords

I have completed another painting in the An-Noor series.  I thought I was finished with this painting many times…I actually started writing this blog post a couple of weeks ago, and as I was writing it, it became really clear to me that it was incomplete.  Anyway, the subject is Khuwailah, a woman I met in Durham a few years ago.

While looking for inspiration for this painting, I looked through my deck of Tarot cards.  The deck is full of symbolic images (that’s kind of the whole point), and I picked out all of the images that spoke to me, and that included a female figure.  I found surprisingly few female cards (like 15 or 16 out of 78 cards).  Of those cards, there was one card that stood out to me, that connected to this particular subject… the Queen of Swords.

Her major characteristics are that she is “Honest, Astute, Forthright, Witty, and Experienced.”  As I read more into her character, I found that it was really a perfect fit.  But what do I do with this image?  I included a few visual references to it in my painting.

I have never photographed a painting thinking that it was done as many times as I did with this one.  Every time I took “the final picture” I would immediately see how I could improve it.  It was unusual, but I’m glad I didn’t just settle for it being done before it really was.  The biggest issue I had was to figure out what to paint through the window and how to paint it.  I originally planned to have some stylized clouds very similar to those on the tarot card, but they didn’t fit with the rest of the image, to me.  So then I just painted over them, but that was really boring.  It needed more magic.  Eventually I tried to channel some Bob Ross with the happy little clouds (and the trees that were there at one point, too).  I’m really really pleased with it, finally!

Check out the gallery to see pictures of the process, and a few of the different versions of this painting.


A couple more things about this painting:

The pattern:  I googled images of African patterns and textiles (my research methods are highly developed, clearly), and tried to get a good sense of what characteristics make them distinct.  I saw a lot of these concentric diamonds.  The pattern I ended up using (I design most of my patterns, but this one is honestly a bit of a knock-off of a rug I came across) is a more geometric and modern looking version of these concentric diamonds.  I struggled some with finding the right balance of colors in the background and pattern… so that they pattern was not distracting but still visible, harmonious with the figure and the window, etc.
Gothic Window with Foil Arches

The window: I love when paintings have windows in them… I particularly like when they have a whole painting inside of a painting, basically, with the scene outside of the window.  I wanted to give the sense that Khuwailah was sitting high up into the sky.  Anyhow, the structure/form of the window was derived from the windows on gothic churches and buildings.