In the 1970s, the label “Bad Painting” was given to art that showed a deliberate disregard for what traditionally qualified as so-called “good” painting. In 1978, critic Marcia Tucker curated an exhibition of the same name in New York, describing it as work “characterised by deformation of the figure, a mixture of art-historical and non-art resources, and fantastic and irreverent content”. In this instance, “bad” is used ironically and was not meant to denigrate, but rather to elevate it and explore its relevance.
This style of art has influenced many artists, including Cape-Town-based Nabeeha Mohamed, who, as an ardent purveyor, found herself naturally gravitating towards it. Broad brushstrokes of bright colour, oversized cigarettes stuffed in mouths, floral explosions, and curious faces demand the viewer’s attention. While the works appear light and cheerful, there is an underlying sadness in the distortion of faces, colours gently seeping into one another, widely grinning dentures sketched in pencil, text-based art with words that sting.
“I am a sensitive person and, although this may sound like an overly ambitious endeavour, my desire is to bring the full spectrum of my emotions into a painting. In doing so, perhaps I can attempt to create a painting that begins to speak to the entirety of what it means to be human. Joy, melancholy, humour, heartbreak, frustration, anger, romance, frivolity.”
Mohamed describes the ever-present almond-shaped eyes, tinted, cat-eye shades, and long, deliberate lashes in her work as a sort of reclamation of the gaze. The eyes are a comment on “the fetishisation of women of colour and the problematic tendency to compare our physical features to food; as if our bodies, like food, are there to be consumed.”