Mequitta Ahuja is a biracial African American artist, who paints powerful warrior women. She calls her approach “automythography,” which is a type of self-portraiture that explores her “combination of personal narrative with cultural and personal mythology.”
Ahuja earned a B.A. from Hampshire College and an M.F.A. from the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she was mentored by African American artist Kerry James Marshall.
She has focused on depictions of her hair in her paintings of beautiful women, who share a resemblance to herself. In these paintings and on her chalk-on-paper drawings, hair strands come to life as tangled masses, folded in shapes suggestive of the artist’s African American and Indian heritage. The rendering and the exaggeration of the size of her hair have become a symbol and a way for her to work through personal issues of race. Her method of working consists of three parts. First she makes a performance of herself elaborately attired. This performance is then photographed. Finally she arranges some of these photographs and creates her painting from this arrangement.
When she was an Artist-in-Residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem, she painted self-portraits and some large paintings that hovered between landscape and abstraction. These were exhibited at the Studio Museum. In one, a nude – with only the slightest hint of facial features – was shown wielding a sword and hacking through cross-hatched brushstrokes, resembling branches on a dark forest floor.
Awards for her art include the Joan Mitchell Award in 2009 and the Tiffany Foundation Award in 2011. Her work has been exhibited in the United States, Paris, Brussels, Berlin, London, and India. She has had a solo show at Chicago’s MOCA in 2005. Her work was included in the Brooklyn Museum’s “Global Feminisms” show in 2007.
Ahuja’s work is in the permanent collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Minneapolis Institute of Art, Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts, and Studio Museum in Harlem.