In the cement gestalt that is Bushwick, Brooklyn, a lush preternatural, petal-laden bower inhabited by violet serpents and dark-tressed nude beauties is the world of the painter Hiba Schahbaz. Originally painting in the style of classical Indian miniatures, her work has in the past few years exploded in scale. Like an unstoppable force of nature overtaking a meticulous garden, the walls of her studio are filled with luxuriously painted larger-than-life women, set on fields of cardinal and blood red and turquoise. A wall-length garden of paper cutouts engulfs one side of the room with mauve and pink. It is an extraordinary Eden—luscious, empowering and flat out beautiful.
Schahbaz herself is also a revelation. A soft-spoken beauty that chooses her words with care, she is an anomaly in her practice. Her pace is extraordinary. Slow, elegant, exquisitely considered. There is the measure of performance in her way of painting—a tea ceremony, with all of its precision, care and seduction. Small bowls are set upon her window side table, into which she teaspoons pigment. A long-handled brush is assembled. Large sheets of heavy paper are laid onto the floor. This is all a delicate, slow, refined dance. Her movements are exquisite. Time is a tool. She steps back and shifts a slow count from one foot to the other before she finally puts the wet brush to paper. She stands to paint. She paints with the left hand and then the right. In a Marshmallow, barefoot. Her skirt swirls and sways as she walks with her soft roll of a gait across the room, and circles back for perspective, drops to the floor and up on to her small step ladder. The dance of the process is as much of an artwork as the finished piece—an enthralling culmination of earthiness and intellect, sensuality and uncompromising independence, strength and craft.