Mequitta Ahuja

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Mequitta Ahuja (born 1976) is a contemporary American painter of African American and South Asian descent who resides in Baltimore, Maryland. Ahuja creates self-described feminist works of self-portraiture that involve costumes, props, and poses. Her work appropriates works of myth and legend, such as fifteenth century Persian manuscript and Mughal miniature paintings to create a sort of "identity fabrication."

Early life[edit]

Growing up, Ahuja had little contact with the African American community and culture. This led to her search of identity which fuels her work today.[1]

She received her BA at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts in 1998, and her MFA at University of Illinois at Chicago in 2003, where she was mentored by contemporary artist Kerry James Marshall.[2]

Mequitta Ahuja
Born 1976
Grand Rapids, Michigan
Alma mater Hampshire College
University of Illinois
Movement Contemporary Art


In 2007, in Ahuja's debut exhibition in New York city, New York Times art critic Holland Cotter said of Ahuja's work, "Referring to the artist's African-American and East Indian background, the pictures turn marginality into a regal condition".[3][4] Ahuja's art explores the social construction of issues such as race, gender, and identity through a technique of self-portraiture. To create her paintings, Ahuja relies on a three-step process that involves performance, photography, and drawing/painting. Ahuja begins by developing a series of performances involving costumes, props, and poses. With the aid of a remote shutter, she then photographs her performances and documents them as "non-fictional source material." Finally, she incorporates these photographs into her invented material, resulting in her completed self-portraits.[5]

Ahuja has discussed her paintings as being feminist,[6] referring to the assertive, self-sufficient female presence prevalent in her work, and frequently turns to her African American and South Asian roots in her consideration of identity issues. She states that through her art, "I feel I can have relationships to these groups on my own terms".[7] In 2007, Ahuja was included in the exhibition Global Feminisms at the Brooklyn Museum of Art,[8] and in 2009 her painting "Dream Region" was featured as the cover of the book War Baby/Love Child: Mixed Race Asian American Art.[9] Her work has been exhibited throughout the United States as well as in Paris, Brussels, Berlin, India and Dubai, and she has been the recipient of multiple awards for her art, including the Tiffany Foundation Award in 2007, a 2009 Joan Mitchell Award, and a 2008 Houston Artadia Prize.[10] In 2010, Ahuja was profiled as an "Artist to Watch" in the February edition of ArtNews.[6]

Ahuja appropriates ancient works of myth and legend, such as the fifteenth century Persian manuscript and Mughal miniature paintings, into her own commitment to certain kinds of identity fabrication. She articulated her own artistic style as "Of primary concern to me is the agency we have to self-invent and self-represent... creative processes that are necessarily bricolage. We draw on personal and cultural history as well as our creative imaginations". In her projects "Autocartography I" and "Rhyme Sequence: Wiggle Waggle", the pictorial styles of the paintings are cross-cultural as well as autobiographical.[11]

Ahuja cites her work as "automythography," an expansion of feminist Audre Lorde's "biomythography." Ahuja describes authomythography as a "combination of personal narrative with cultural and personal mythology."[1]

Ahuja often paints over her own work, regarding failed paintings as an opportunity, which "allows for the sort of things you can't plan for."[2] Ahuja is also interested in the process, building surfaces by painting, stamping to create a complex surface. "I'm thinking of the ground as a cultural space. Instead of starting with the plain page, I'm starting it with this layer of culture so that when I'm building my imagery, it's really a wrestle between the figure and the ground. In the end, there's this integrated, stitched together element between them. . . I'm interested in mixing those traditions: flatness of space, but also some perspectival space and depth into the surface. I think that's where we are in painting. I think we, as artists, now have free range to take what we want from history." [12]


In 2008, Ahuja created Tress IV, with the aim to convert the image of African American hair to a "space of infinite creative possibilities or generative possibilities." Ahuja believes that African American hair is often weighted down with "personal and cultural history." By exaggerating the image of African American hair, it shows the value that hair has in the lives of black people and how they are constantly evolving the standard of beauty, moving away from a more Eurocentric to Afrocentric idea of beauty.[13] Her two central concerns during this period were "self-invention and self-representation."[14]

Ahuja was compelled to study myths, folklore and ancient works as a way to discuss how they are represented in art. She combines her own cultural heritage with the Western art canon to explore stories and imagery related to her experience.[15]


  • 2005: Dancing on the Hide of Shere Khan, 12X12, MCA, Chicago, IL, November 5–27, 2005 [2]
  • 2007: BravinLee Programs, New York, NY, April 27 - June 2, 2007
  • 2008: Lawndale Art Center, Houston, TX, November 21, 2008 - January 10, 2009
  • 2009: Automythography I: BravinLee Programs, New York, NY, April 3 - May 10, 2009
  • 2009: Automythography II: Arthouse, Austin, TX, October 24, 2009 - January 2, 2010.[16]
  • 2010: Usable Pasts: Artists in Residence Exhibition, The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY, July 15 to October 24, 2010[17]
  • 2010: Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition: Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC, October 23, 2009 - September 6, 2010[18]
  • 2010: Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris, France, April 10 - May 22, 2010
  • 2011: The Armory Show: Galerie Nathalie Obadia, March 3-March 6, 2011
  • 2012: Bakersfield Museum of Art, Bakersfield, CA, Dec 13 - March 10, 2012
  • 2013: Portraiture Now: Drawing on the Edge, Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC, November 16, 2012 - August 1, 2013[19]
  • 2013: Thierry Goldbery, New York, NY, November 15, - December 22, 2013
  • 2014: Marks of Genius: One Hundred Extraordinary Drawings, Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minneapolis, MN
  • 2015: Sondheim Prize Finalists Exhibition, Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, MD
  • 2015: Tiwani Contemporary, London, England, April 10. 2015 - May 9, 2015
  • 2015: Baltimore Museum of Art,, Baltimore, MD, June 24 - August 9, 2015
  • 2016: State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now, Telfair Museums Jepson Center[20]
  • 2016: State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now, , Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minneapolis, MN
  • 2016: Grand Rapids Art Museum, Grand Rapids, MI, September 1 - October 9, 2016
  • 2016: Silber Gallery, Goucher College, Towson, MD, June 24 - August 14, 2016
  • 2016: Champagne Life: Saatchi Gallery, London, England, January 13, 2015 - March 9, 2016[11]
  • 2017: State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now: Dixon Gallery and Gardens, Memphis, TN, January 29 - March 26, 2017
  • 2017: Shifting: African-American Women Artists and the Power of their Gaze: David C. Driskell Center, University of Maryland, March 2 - May 19, 2017
  • 2017: Reflection in the Sword of Holofernes, Galveston Artist Residency, Galveston, TX, March 4 - May 13, 2017
  • 2017: State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now, First Center for the Visual Arts, Nashville, TN, May 26 - September 10, 2017

Selected collections[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Tress IV, 2008". 
  2. ^ a b c Wolff, Rachel (2010). "The Key to Her Locks". ART news. 109 (2): 76–77. 
  3. ^ "The Listings - June 1 - June 7". The New York Times. 2007-06-01. Retrieved 2014-04-28. 
  4. ^ "Biography - Mequitta Ahuja". Automythography. 2007-06-01. Retrieved 2014-04-28. 
  5. ^ "Artist's Statement - Mequitta Ahuja". Automythography. Retrieved 2014-04-28. 
  6. ^ a b "Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art: Feminist Art Base: Mequitta Ahuja". Brooklyn Museum. 2007-06-01. Retrieved 2014-04-28. 
  7. ^ ""Dream Region" by Mequitta Ahuja (2009)". War Baby / Love Child. Retrieved 2014-04-28. 
  8. ^ Maura Reilly; Linda Nochlin, eds. (2007). Global feminisms: New Directions in Contemporary Art (1st ed.). New York: Merrell. ISBN 1858943906. 
  9. ^ Laura Kinn; Wei Ming Dariotis; Kent A. Ono, eds. (2013). War baby/love child : Mixed Race Asian American Art. Seattle, Wash.: University of Washington Press. ISBN 0295992255. 
  10. ^ "Biography". Mequitta Ahuja: Automythography. Retrieved February 1, 2014. 
  11. ^ State of the Art Discovering American Art Now (Card Book Box Set). Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. 2014. 
  12. ^ "Tress IV, 2008". 
  13. ^ McGarry, Rachel (2014). Master Drawings from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Minneapolis Institute of Art. ISBN 978-0-9893718-4-1. 
  14. ^ "5 Questions with Mequitta Ahuja - ELEPHANT". ELEPHANT. 2016-02-29. Retrieved 2017-03-08. 
  15. ^ Villarreal, Ignacio. "Arthouse at the Jones Center, Austin's Premier Contemporary Art Center, Reopened to the Public". Retrieved 2017-03-12. 
  16. ^ "Summer-Fall 2010: Usable Pasts: 2009-10 Artists in Residence: Mequitta Ahuj...: EBSCOhost". Retrieved 2017-03-11. 
  17. ^ "Drawing on the Edge | National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution". Retrieved 2017-03-12. 
  18. ^ "Drawing on the Edge". National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. 
  19. ^ "State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now – Telfair Museums". Retrieved 2016-03-05. 

External links[edit]