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Arts of North America

Art created in North America includes objects made by native cultures of the present-day United States and Canada; paintings and decorative arts produced during colonial times; 18th- and 19th-century masterpieces; and the work of contemporary artists and photographers.

© Mequitta Ahuja
American, born 1976
Off the Edge
Oil on canvas

96 x 76 inches

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Museum purchase with funds provided by
the African American Art Advisory Association

Arts of North America

Reworking the genre of self-portraiture, Mequitta Ahuja probes the construction of both image and identity. To create her paintings, the artist weaves undersized brushstrokes into larger, textured surfaces. This weaving of paint underscores the structure of the images and, in her words, “the deliberate and highly constructed presentation of the subject’s identity.”

Off the Edge shows Ahuja confidently stepping across the field, her hand clasping a remote shutter control. Borrowing from Dutch portraiture conventions, Ahuja’s pose is magisterial and her setting is indeterminate (an ambiguous mix of landscape, hair, and galactic imagery). Off the Edge asserts identity as a form of performance. Ahuja underscores this process by borrowing a pose from the history of art and also by referencing her use of photography. Notable within the composition is the hand-held remote shutter control—Ahuja begins a work by taking studio photos of herself with such an apparatus. Although you may not realize at first that Off the Edge is a self-portrait, the corded shutter control brings you back to the reality of the painting’s construction.