Five new paintings and a series of works on vellum comprise Mequitta Ahuja’s exhibition, her first at Thierry Goldberg Gallery. Ahuja describes her own aesthetic as the real combined with the self-invented, giving license to elements of magical fantasy in her large-scale paintings weighted with cultural narrative. “Autocartography III (2012)” cross-pollinates across materials: colored pencil, oil, watercolor, and waxy chalk. Its composition is as diverse as its presentation, illuminated by bright blues and more subdued neutral tones. She says: “My figure traverses invented landscapes. Whether she is present or absent, the environments I paint are her domain.” The paintings are maps that both invent new stories and trace Ahuja’s role in them. In her artist’s statement she says:
A variation of the term coined by author Audre Lorde, I refer to my work and process as “Automythography.” I define Automythography as a constructive process of identity formation in which nature, culture and self-invention merge. Proposing art as a primary method of this process, my works demonstrate female self-invention and self-representation through the deployment of her own tools. I develop my figure through three steps: performance, photography and drawing. I begin with solo performances in front of the camera, positioning myself as agent of my own depiction. I document these performances using a remote shutter control and use the resulting photographs as non-fictional source material. Through my preparatory drawing process, I establish the invented elements of my work. The resulting self-portraits embody a form of creative self-sufficiency.
Even in describing her own work, Ahuja talks about “my” art being “her” tools. It’s clear that she wants to use her own voice to build a story for others. Her art isn’t a map tracing her own experiences, but is that which wants to chart undiscovered territory for the sake of others. The auto isn’t self-referent in a strict sense, but female-referent. She stakes out the place for her own identity while actively creating the new worlds and unimagined landscapes of a future laid open. Her paintings feel achingly familiar of a past that doesn’t align with time or place, but the recurring interjection of herself in the paintings root the works in the present. The figures are always in movement, heralding a future that also can’t quite be attributed to a specific space or chronology. The paintings are situated in their unsituatedness, their refusal to be coopted into past, present, or future.
Mequitta Ahuja’s exhibition is on view at Thierry Goldberg Gallery at 103 Norfolk Street through December 22nd.
– Amie Zimmer
All images courtesy of Thierry Goldberg Gallery