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 “…”

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.

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.

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.