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Exhibition Catalogue: January 6 - February 11, 2023
The thematic heart of the show is genealogy—Ahuja’s research, a collaboration with her deceased grandmother who started researching and writing the family story in the 1940s. While Ahuja is best known for her large-scale self-portraits, In Ahuja’s 2020 exhibition with the gallery Ma, the artist expanded her representation to include the image of her mother. In this new work, Ahuja goes further, centralizing images of her 19th-century Black ancestors as she imagines them from documentary evidence, including letters and written descriptions in government documents and photographs of their descendants (the artist inherited hundreds of photos from her grandmother). By setting her own image to the side while centralizing pictures and words of or about her ancestors, Ahuja’s new work simultaneously marks a radical departure from her oeuvre and its logical extension. In Black-word, Ahuja retains her signature themes: identity, autobiography, the creative imagination, and history—both personal and painterly. She references the classical marriage portrait and paintings of the Christian holy family, including the breastfeeding Madonna, and, using a strategy of medieval and renaissance art —scrolling ribbons of text “banderoles” that further animate and relate the stories depicted, Ahuja tells the story of her maternal lineage, claiming both her family story and the story of the Western figurative tradition as hers.