Studio Visit with Hiba Schahbaz at 56 Bogart, Bushwick
A few sunny (and warm) Saturdays ago in early February, I paid a visit to the splendid studio of the Pakistan-born painter Hiba Schahbaz at 56 Bogart in Bushwick. I've been following her ferociously on Instagram for about year and I'm completely obsessed with her work. Her gorgeous paintings of brown nude women border on the spiritual and the sensual. Their scale are life-size, and their colors are pastel, both soft and nurturing. In her artist statement, she states, "I speak an ancient language in a contemporary feminine voice", and she does this very powerfully. Her artist roots derive from the centuries-old traditional Indo-Persian painting technique she studied during her undergraduate years in Lahore, Pakistan. The paintings are self-portraits and extensions of herself, which she describes as very 'intuitive', her women are uber feminine, possessing her long raven locks and pretty features. A self-described 'miniaturist' and 'paper artist', who now works in large scale, Schahbaz inserts herself and her women in recreated classic works from Old Masters like Goya and Botticelli. She can be Olympia, or Leda, or a Grand Odalisque. I love that she challenges European art history standards and ideals with an unapologetic brown body. Each canvas has been painted with tea, she also works with gouache, watercolor, and ink on Indian paper and wasli paper.
Born in Karachi, Pakistan, Schahbaz has been a New York transplant for the past five years, based in Brooklyn, while also teaching at the Art Students League of New York. She has spent her entire artist career at 56 Bogart, which she fondly calls 'home' and loves engaging with her fellow Bushwick artists. She is a rostered artist at Thierry Goldberg on the Lower East Side, represented alongside female artists like Tschabalala Self. Her last solo exhibit 'Hanged With Roses' was a lovely show of small works on paper, brimming with magic, nature and femininity.
Having lived in the U.S. for a few years now, existing in this ominous political climate, and dealing with the misogynistic/racist bullshit spewed by our current Monster-in-Chief, I asked Schahbaz if she considered herself a feminist. She replied, "Yes, I am probably a feminist. I never categorized myself, but the fact that I've been sitting in this studio for a year replicating paintings made by men and how they see women and making them brown, has some critical/literary context that I will understand when this entire body of work is done."
Schabaz's work is currently on view at the Spring Break Art Show during Armory Week in New York. An upcoming solo show is slated for April at the GRAB BACK: Feminist Incubator Space program at the Project for Empty Space in Newark, NJ.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY CIDNEY HUE