It was a misty, rainy night in LA, the perfect setting for an art show. All the artists were inside except for one. The room was dark with fluorescent lights and beautiful paintings that decorated the walls. The DJ was jamming to afro beats and the bar was lit. Some friends and I had just made our way back from the bar and no more than 3 minutes into our conversation, I painted the hostess’ new suede boots with cranberry juice and patron.
I’ve had my share of social awkwardness, but I’d like to believe that I’d play it off nicely. Until, that is, that moment when all I wanted was to escape from public humiliation. All of the exclamations of “OMG Maya” and “I can’t believe you did that” sent me running outside and into the gazebo where one particular artist had decided to be on that misty, rainy night.
Taj had filled the gazebo with his paintings. Some were abstract with dull colors, vortexes, numbers, and faces. But the one that immediately captured my attention was the one with bold words that jumped out at me: why can’t I be human. I replied, “Me too.” My interaction with this being—the painting, that is—was more than a view of art, it was a therapy session, and I wanted to know more about the artist behind those echoing words.
A few weeks later, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Taj. He’s an artist who likes to purge his innermost thoughts and feelings onto a canvas. Each piece was like a therapy session, not only for him, but also its viewer. My therapist on that misty, rainy day in LA—or should I say the painting—was called “Labelless.”
Taj shared with me the underlying message of “Labelless,” saying that “Relationships of any kind look at you [to] decide who you are. Oh, that’s a light-skinned man. That’s a brown-skinned woman. That’s a white trans person because you think they’re trans. Maybe they don’t identify that way. Maybe they don’t have a label.” He said. “I think that as human beings, it’s important for us to just stop letting what we see dictate what is because that’s rarely the case.”
Everything in today’s time seems to require a label. Taj went further, explaining how people will judge a person by the label they assign them before getting to know them. I couldn’t have agreed with that any more and further resonated with the painting.
As we went further into our conversation about being misunderstood and how it was sometimes hard for people to understand others, Taj dropped another gem: “If people get you right away, there isn’t a lot to get, and so you’re supposed to be complex.”
Curious about his creative process, I asked Taj when he considered a painting finished. He shared that he just releases them on the day they’re sold. Then he proceeded with: “I don’t like perfect paintings. Because when they’re perfect, it gives you nothing to critique. If your past is perfect, your future is going nowhere. Because you have nothing to look at and be like, ‘Oh, I could have done that differently.’”
In the end, I realized that sometimes life’s most embarrassing moments are the ones that lead to the most insightful experiences. Meeting Taj, the artist who listens with an open heart, and echoes words onto a canvas, will forever be one of my fondest memories. He serves as a reminder that we are all human, that there is perfection in imperfection, and that complexity isn’t meant to be easily understood.