Draped in a spectacular pink robe, the female figure at the heart of Mequitta Ahuja’s Generator (2010) raises her arms in a messianic pose; she is surrounded by a glittering profusion of floral forms and cracked, kaleidoscopic colour, running from crystalline blues to bold bursts of red. Spanning more than two metres across, the painting’s surface is busy with organic, scale-like patterns and zig-zagging lines, conjuring the impression of a fantastical mosaic or aerial map bursting into life. ‘I depict the woman in my work, myself, my subject, as self-sufficient and creatively expansive’, says the artist. ‘I see her as myself but also as an emblem, a female archetype – empowered, skilful and abundantly imaginative’ (M. Ahuja, quoted in ‘Mequitta Ahuja: Presenting Representation’, Kadenze Creative, 29 November 2017). Standing triumphant amid an allusive, intricate fabric of painterly invention, Generator pictures the artist as master of her universe.
This heroic self-portrait exemplifies Ahuja’s ‘auto-mythic’ approach to art-making. Drawing upon her African American and Indian American roots, her vivid canvases explore notions of tribalism, identity and heritage. Allusions to religious iconography, folk murals, ancient illuminated manuscripts and Hindu miniature painting combine with her self-image in a process that the artist terms ‘auto-cartography’. Ahuja teases out conversations between disparate artistic idioms, frequently working out her ideas through an extensive period of drawing, reading and observation before committing them to canvas. ‘My aim as an artist is to engage in the conversation about representation that has been going on for millennia’, she explains. ‘… By combining ideas sourced from outside of the Western canon with large format oil painting, I weave my complex cultural experience into the history of art’ (M. Ahuja, quoted in ‘5 Questions with Mequitta Ahuja’, Elephant, 29 February 2016).