“Love Letters to My People”
Surrealist mixed-media paintings by Saba Chaudhry Taj ’04 | Back to Table of Contents
I’ve loved the arts since I was really young, connecting with dance, poetry, music and visual art. I can’t remember wanting to be anything else but an artist. I started taking visual art more seriously in high school and developed a portfolio with a focus on portraiture in AP Art. My Ravenscroft teachers Joyce Filip and Steve McGill were hugely important to my development as an artist. They believed in me and said so. Both planted the seeds of confidence that I come back to when my determination waivers.
I received a bachelor’s in art education from North Carolina Central University in 2009 and a master’s in fine art from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2016. Much of my work deals with identity and power, and I’ve found artwork to be a tremendous vehicle to bring attention to social issues, tell stories and connect us. My practice includes mixed-media collage, sculpture, performance, garment-making, poetry and, of course, portraiture.
I am currently in a fellowship at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, as part of its Documentary Diversity Project. In the words of the center’s director, Wesley Hogan, the goal of the DDP is “to diversify the nonfiction storytellers of this country, so that in twenty years’ time they will more accurately reflect who we are, and the astonishing range of experiences and backgrounds of Americans living in a global world.” Throughout the fellowship, I have been working on a series of surrealist, mixed-media paintings of queer Muslims. This project grows out of a desire for more representation by and for individuals with marginalized identities. There is a particular need for representation that is not limited by our identities but is complex and intersectional.
Above: “At the Meeting of the Seas,” 2020: 72” x 72”; oil paint and glitter on canvas
Left: Saba Chaudhry Taj ’04
“Laila in Orchids (Interstitial Lush),” 2020: 68” x 66”; oil paint and glitter on canvas
“Babyking,” 2020: 72” x 72”; oil paint, acrylic paint, silk flowers, organza, plastic pearls, glitter, sequins, beads, rhinestones, tassels, trims on canvas
The paintings both reveal and obscure the figure from view. The figures are partially covered by opaque paint that masks portions of their faces and bodies; they are seen and unseen to varying degrees. Their gaze always remains clear and present, looking directly at the viewer. The subjects are rendered in acrylic and oil paint, and the pieces are adorned with all types of materials — glitter, rhinestones, sequins, fabric and silk flowers.
I interview and photograph subjects and then translate these documents into painted and adorned portraits. Rejecting the notion of objective documentary, instead I am interested in preserving mystery and embracing the subjective and relational aspects of representation. It is important to me that these paintings do not attempt to define these individuals or this community as a whole. Instead, they feel like love letters to my people.
“Liminal Being(s),” 2020: 68” x 75”; oil paint, glitter, appliques, gold leaf, spray paint on canvas