Imani Bilal (b. 1983) is a contemporary abstract painter based in Atlanta. Her work is deeply inspired by her Islamic faith. As she explains, “I strive to convey the notion of Tawheed (oneness), the idea of primordial matter, chaos, and calm; of all things sharing a source and being connected to an infinite mound, inclusive of the human experience.” Working with acrylic and resin, Bilal, who has been experimenting with paint since childhood, has since developed a chemistry not taught in schools, a sensibility not learned from artists of the past, but a process of her own. Her first solo show in New York City, Fingerprints of Ruh, curated by Nemo Librizzi, was met with enthusiasm, leading to two exhibitions in Atlanta. Inspired by the Islamic concept of “ruh” or breath/inner soul/spirit, it featured lush palettes and undulant shapes against pure obsidian wash. Bilal often paints while seated on the floor to pour her whole body into the composition, using her hands, found objects, and hand-crafted brushes, to create an array of effects. She blends ink with diluted vinegar and acrylics to develop deeper tones and subtle sheen. Islamic art focuses on the spiritual essence of things rather than their physical qualities, a concept which is at the heart of Bilal’s practice.
Bilal admires the graphic artist and sculptor Elizabeth Catlett, Color field painter and lyrical abstractionist Sam Gilliam, and Color field painter Morris Louis but finds creative insight in everyday people as well. She is captivated by the human capacity to endure struggle. Rooted in a connection to mankind, Bilal says in painting to express herself, she also paints to communicate with others, hoping her work sparks powerful emotion. A devout Muslim, who studies her faith in search of true meaning, Bilal explores islamic concepts in her work and seeks to challenge how specific subject matters are presented and understood. She has encountered resistance from other Muslims who challenge her explication and unorthodox methods of expression. Rebellious by nature, Bilal says resistance fuels her artistic freedom. She is among a small community of Black Muslim American women who push the avant-garde. A single mother of two, Bilal moved from Washington, DC, to Atlanta in 2019.