Austin artist Nadia Waheed develops an international following
by Sumaiya Malik and Amil Malik
Portrait by Jinni J
Austin-based artist Nadia Waheed is a force to be reckoned with in the art world. At 26, her large-scale acrylic paintings of contemporary figures have caught the eye of gallerists in Toronto and London.
A graduate of Westlake High School, Waheed received a BFA in Painting and Drawing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2015. Soon after, she moved to Sydney, Australia where she fully supported herself with her art. In summer 2018, Waheed returned to Austin to develop a new body of work with the goal of pursuing a masters degree. She rented a small studio in the Museum of Human Achievement in East Austin where she worked feverishly to create more than 17 large-scale paintings in less than six months.
With other artists working nearby, Waheed got into the pulse of the city quickly. She took part in East Austin Studio Tours and her larger-than-life depictions of women in vivid pinks and blues were hard to miss and garnered attention. Her work is scattered with symbols from both her original hometown of Karachi, Pakistan, such as henna-filled hands, Urdu language script and window grates, as well as hints of her global upbringing including references to Voltaire and Goya.
Waheed was born to Pakistani parents in Al-Khobar, Saudi Arabia, but has lived in multiple countries — France, Egypt, Pakistan – before her family settled down in Austin in 2005. The intricacies in her work reflect her own global exposure; the women in her paintings wear elaborate braids reminiscent of a rhythmic flow of life and maturity of thought.
We caught up with the artist in her studio at MOHA where she was busy creating a wall-size painting for her next exhibition at Raw Paw, an art collective on St. Elmo.
Sumaiya Malik: Almost all your work features figures of women. Why? Who are these women?
Nadia Waheed: I’ve always drawn and painted women. I started off drawing women as a kid and I’m probably going to die painting women. Interestingly though I didn’t realize that being a woman was a relevant factor for me until mid-2018, shortly after I turned 26 when I was re-entering the dating pool after a very long term relationship ended. I was like, “Oh, shit! This is a thing.” I had to recontextualize myself for the first time in five years, and I just exploded into my painting.
The women are [versions of] me, but also others. They’re two women, but also one woman. They’re everyone and no one all at once. Symbols — but also something real. My feelings manifested, my younger self, my older self … I wish I could answer this clearly but again, I only have mirages of who and what they are; women contain multitudes. Who are they to you?
SM: Your work seems to combine the East and West. Is that deliberate? How do you typically conceptualize a work?
NW: It is and isn’t deliberate; I’m attempting to make a space for myself. A space for a person who is from everywhere but who feels like they belong nowhere. I’m attempting to voice my own perspective on myself – my Pakistani heritage, my Westernization, my womanhood, my body, my feelings of rejection from my own culture … everything. My painting combines East and West because I am a combination of East and West, a combination of “Shut the hell up!” and “Chai, Ammi?” [“Would you like some tea, mother?”] Ninety-eight percent of my paintings begin with a feeling or a gesture. Once I know what that gesture is, the rest is simply about talking to the painting and seeing what it needs to get it where it wants to go.
AM: With an upcoming exhibition in Toronto and representation from a gallery in London, I think it’s safe to say you’ve gotten the hang of business. So how do you combine the two — art and business?
NW: [Laughs] Well, to say that I’ve gotten the hang of business is a bit of a stretch – I’m still very young and learning how to work everything. I’m very lucky to have an incredibly supportive team at Beers (gallery) in London who are willing to have a dialogue with me and to teach me how this industry works. But in the spirit of honesty, I have very little experience in that side of things and I’d like to try to keep it that way. From a young age knowing that I wanted to make my living in this field, I decided to repeatedly tell myself, “The only thing that matters is making a good painting.” The rest I’m leaving to the universe (and to Kurt, my gallerist).
Nadia’s next show “Notes From a Windowless Room” opens February 15 at Raw Paw Gallery in Austin. So far it is her last domestic show until June. When asked what her long term plan is, Nadia jokes that her resolution to relax a little will have to wait until 2020.
Follow Nadia Waheed on Instagram @nadiakwd.