Saba Taj – Interstitial Lush (Laila in Orchids)
Dimensions: 66 x 68″ finished size
Medium: oil paint and glitter on canvas
So often queer people of color, in particular the queer Muslims I paint, are defined by the oppressions we face, instead of the lush and liberatory liminal spaces we create and reside in. My work considers liminality as it is embodied through queerness and understood through intersectionality and the Islamic mystical concept of barzakh, described in the Qur’an as the place where the two seas (salt and freshwater) meet. Barzakh is the in-between, the space between binaries that is neither and it is both.
In my mixed media paintings, my subjects are depicted in imaginings of barzakh; magical, abundant, and full of possibility. My process is an intimate one, and I am painting people who are part of my community and my chosen family. Each told me about their relationship to Islam, queerness, and pleasure, their personal mythologies helping to shape the environments I paint them in. I consider how I can both describe and conceal the subjects, to tell a kind of truth about them, but also protect them from the laceration of the gaze. I paint their faces in their entirety before swathing them with flat color. They look back at the viewer, emerging from and obscured within dreamscapes. Bodies and surroundings are decadent, cloaked with glitter, rhinestones, appliques, and beads, objects of our queer and diasporic heritages. My portraits are a witnessing of the in-between and those of us who reside there, exploring the verdant spaces beyond binaries.