Portrait of a Bedouin: Behind A Commission

Hi!! 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.

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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.

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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.

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This is
This is

For this commission, I worked on a fairly large canvas 24x36". 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.

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For more on my commission process and to book an original work of art, read here.

Updates from NJ: Latest Veiled Figurative Originals

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Hello, hellooo! I've been home now for about 2 weeks and getting pretty cozzied up in my hometown of NJ. Weather's warming up (yay) and the pizza is better than ever.I recently shared my latest collection of veiled figurative women via my newsletter.

They are ghostly, secretive, anonymous, mysterious, feminine, serene, and beautiful all at once.

And here they are. You can click on each image to take you to my store. Most of them are already gone (love you wonderful art lovers!):

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"Red Summer" 16x20" acrylic on canvas, Reserved
"Red Summer" 16x20" acrylic on canvas, Reserved
Bridesmaids_amira-rahim_web
Bridesmaids_amira-rahim_web
"The Wedding II" 24x24" acrylic on canvas, Available
"The Wedding II" 24x24" acrylic on canvas, Available

That's all. It's important to remember to see the positives in anything. I love being able to interact directly with the people who love and collect my art. Nothing beats that in my opinion. So, I was happy to list them on my website as soon as possible. Several people already expressed interest in these new pieces and were happy when I was finally able to offer them for sale.

In the meantime, I cannot NOT paint for longer than like a week. The creative juices are flowing. So, naturally, I am on my mom's kitchen table making little abstract paintings on paper and spreading my art gear all over the living room. Bless my family for putting up with me. Thankfully, they are loving the colorful messes popping up and freely offering their art critiques. It's been fun. (Peek on Instagram @amirarahimart or search #amirainNJpaintings)

More on that later. Life's good. Don't stress too much. People are infinitely kind.

Thanks for reading xx

A Self-Portrait & Reflections on Identity

"Self Portrait" in progress
"Self Portrait" in progress

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.

"Self Portrait" 

"Self Portrait" 

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.

"Self Portait" 24x20" acrylic on canvas
"Self Portait" 24x20" acrylic on canvas

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!

New: Meditative Abstracts

It's the weekend! Hope you had a good week. Mine was busy, if not turbulent, but more on that later. I wanted to share two of my latest abstract paintings, fresh off the easel.

"Meditation in Pink and Green" 36x24" acrylic on canvas" Available

Both pieces stem from meditative beginnings. I am trying to tap more into my intuition and inner guidance since it really invigorates the creative process. I am realizing things about myself that have changed over the years. The most obvious one that I've found has been embracing abundance. I used to shy away from having too much good in my life. Maybe you can relate? I was afraid that with gains, comes loss. That happiness is fleeting so why strive for it. I realize now that our thoughts can greatly impact our reality.

"Abundance" 30x24" Available
"Abundance" 30x24" Available

These days, I am more interested in abundance than restrictiveness. How has this manifested into my daily life? I allow myself to have the small things that I want. I eat well. I laugh more. I share and give more of myself to people I just meet. And in the studio? Well, I'm keeping my inventory stacked with fresh new canvases ready for me to explore. No more holding back. No more fear.

And speaking of fear. I faced mine this week and completed an abstract painting in oils. It was during the 6-day Master Painting class with Igor Shipilin. My painting along with all of the other completed works from our cohort will be open for exhibition starting Saturday, February 7th at 7pm N2N Gallery, Nation Towers. All are welcome to attend the opening and view our creations!

That's me. What about you?

30 in 30: Day 16 "Zoey" Pet Portrait + Process Photos

pet portrait commissioned painting by amira rahim Hey guys! Today it rained in Abu Dhabi and stormed with hail in other parts. It's been a gray, cloudy day, and I'm not complaining. I decided to spend my day indoors and get to some of the commissions ahead of me. This is of a sweet dog named Zoey who passed away recently. She was a joy to paint. I loved capturing her coat and sweet nature. I had many photos to choose from, but thought this captured her in a simple, but pretty light.

I decided to capture the process and share it with you, so here it goes:

This was the reference photo. After a few sketches and composition options, I decided the zoomed in crop of her face and collar would be best.

After working out the drawing in pencil, I then went over it in black gresso, bringing in the basic shapes and shadows that would define the painting.

Since the owner wanted a fairly realistic rendition of Zoey, I knew I wouldn't be using much color in this piece. So, I decided to tone the canvas in magenta. It makes for a nice graphic effect against black and white, and it is feminine, which can reflect the dog's sex.

I used Paynes grey, titanium white, raw umber, and indian red for most of the fur and features. I also decided to lift some of the highlighted areas with a little cerulean blue.

Propped my iPad up on the easel for most of the painting. As you can see, I painted from the photograph without any editing or fiddling. Just dove right in. I really need to invest in an iPad stand since I use my iPad so much in the studio!

I'm happy with how well the portrait came out. I don't typically paint dogs or cats, but some are just adorable and this girl was no exception. The final portrait moved the original owner to tears, so I can say, my job here is done. All on a rainy day's work!