This is the fourth studio space that Hiba Schahbaz has had in the same Bushwick building since she graduated from Pratt with her M.F.A. in 2012. At 500 square feet, it is the largest so far. She found the building after walking by one day and admiring the windows; she imagined that it would be a great place to work. Weeks later, she came upon an ad for a studio share that happened to be in that very same building, where she has remained.
Schahbaz, who was born in Pakistan, studied miniature painting for her undergraduate thesis in art school in Lahore. “There’s so much beauty to them, so much ritual, and it’s so meditative,” she says, while sitting on the small daybed by the window. “But I never painted faces. The faces were blank.”
Art Studios Week
Wendy Goodman visits four studios in four neighborhoods.
It wasn’t until a couple of years after moving to New York that Schahbaz started painting portraits. “I started painting hundreds of myself and people I knew. I still have them somewhere. They were all in profile because in Mughal paintings, you have the side profile, and in Persian ones, you have three-quarters. I think it took me another couple of years to face outward.”
During the conversation, she leans down, opens a drawer underneath the daybed, and pulls out a sheaf of exquisite miniature paintings, one of George Floyd, one of Breonna Taylor, others of people whose lives ended in violence, painted with squirrel hair she fastened to the back of a pigeon-feather quill. “They are made in this very specific miniature technique,” Schahbaz says of the paintings. “It’s all tea and watercolor.” These are her Memorial Portraits, hidden away but very much present once you have seen them. (Her work is included right now in a group show, “In New York, Thinking of You,” at the Flag Art Foundation.)
These days, Schahbaz is working in two media: oil on linen and watercolor and tea on paper, all while sitting on the floor. As we sit together, paintings of women — “self-referential but not always auto-portraits” — most enveloped in a sea of deep pink and rose, lie around us on the floor and on the wall, their faces looking back at us, perhaps making up for lost time.
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