Baltimore-based painter Mequitta Ahuja turns the artist’s self-portrait, especially the woman-of-color’s self-portrait, which has long been defined by identity, into a discourse on picture-making. Of South Asian and African American descent, the artist positions herself boldly within her compositions, but makes the turn away from subjectivity by focusing on painting as a received form. She visually catalogs painting conventions, established over centuries while using those conventions to make new meanings.
In large scale paintings, Ahuja simplifies form, and includes common motifs of the figurative tradition such as hand gestures, swags of fabric, meeting the viewer’s gaze, creased paper presented as trompe l’oeil, architecture that frames a narrative, one-point perspective and the allegorical figure. Ahuja emphasizes both the conceptual and physical work of painting by showing her subject reading, writing and handling canvases in the studio. With pictures within pictures, she depicts paintings’ many genres —abstraction, text, naturalism, schematic description, graphic flatness and illusion. Ahuja repurposes painting ideas and approaches across time and geography including Egyptian form, Giotto frescoes, Hindu figuration and early American painting. She positions this variety of artistic types within the context of figurative painting and replaces the common self-portrait motif, the artist standing before the easel, with a broad portrait of the work of painting. By working strategically within paintings’ many forms and varied pasts, Ahuja knits her contemporary concerns, personal and painterly into the centuries old conversation of representation.
Ahuja is the recipient of the 2018 Guggenheim fellowship award. She studied at Hampshire College (BA,1998) and the University of Illinois (MFA,2003). Ahuja's works have been widely exhibited in institutions and galleries including Brooklyn Museum, Studio Museum in Harlem, Saatchi Gallery, Minneapolis Institute of Art, Crystal Bridges, Baltimore Museum of Art and Grand Rapids Art Museum.