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Best of the best | Interviews



With this exciting theme of the first issue of the year 2020 “Best of the best”, Art Now has chosen artists featured from Jan 2018 to Dec 2019 issues. Here is a quick re-read of the artists who made a lasting contribution:



Abdullah M I Syed:



It is not hard to discern Syed’s work because of his use of dollar notes in his art works which he brilliantly use to produce such work that portrays his ideas and notions. Replying to a question asked by Maheen Aziz about his idea behind using one dollar notes, Syed elucidated “My use of banknotes engages with the central role that money plays in economies of consumption and exchange, and how money often navigates cultural and political identities and power structures. Within such structures, the green US dollar bill acts as a dominant instrument of addressing the micro and the macro, especially in the Global financial market. Many currencies are pegged to the U.S. dollar and America’s economy drives the financial reactions from the rest of the world. The US one dollar bill has reached an enigmatic status with its hidden meanings, occult symbolism, and myths and has a psychological effect on pricing and value, including art as commodity. In my art practice, the temporal dimension of using the US one dollar bill and other currencies are infinite, connecting histories with the underlying human desire for power and lust for money on the one hand, while battling the overriding realization that the building of human relationship is imperative to existence.”



Adeel Uz Zafar



Adeel Uz Zafar is another name in the Pakistani art world who has extensively produced out standing work. In  conversation with Jovita Alvares, Zafar shared his successful and exciting collaboration with a Seoul fashion label ‘Junn.J’.

“The imagery and figures that I have been producing through my signature style are quite widely understood and accepted, some even are iconic and therefore, global phenomena. This label usually works with one artist a year and in 2018 chose my work as they believed it fit their brand, which has been highly influenced by youth and street culture. This process became a kind of multiplication of the works. Someone who may not have seen the original, can now own a version of it at a more affordable price. The imagery does change with the scale and medium completely differing but in my opinion, these fields of fine art, fashion, textile etc. are all linked so when they come together they create something new and it’s nice to see people interacting with it on a different platform…”



Anila Qayyum Agha 



Rabeya Jalil writes “Through drawings, paintings and large-scale mixed-media installations, Anila Quayyum Agha comments on social and gender roles, global politics, cultural multiplicity, and mass media. Living within different faiths (Islam and Christianity) and cultures (Pakistan and the United States), has deeply influenced and inspired her artistic practice. Her work delves into the immigrant experience of alienation and transience and creates a social experience that challenges one to critique patriarchal societies. Agha’s work is in the collection of the Grand Rapids Art Museum, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts, Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati, Ohio and Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, Delhi, India.”



Aroosa Naz Khan
While discussing his views on cinema and the moving image in an interview, Jean Baudrillard described various scenarios of everyday life he felt had a cinematographic quality. He called his perception “hallucinatory” and elaborated by saying that “cinema has a profound effect on our perception of people and things, and of time too. But how can you describe all that?” (Charbonnier, 1993). Zohreen Murtaza continued to write “This is a query that has piqued the interest of many contemporary artists today who are already asking and responding to the possibilities inherent in such a world view. We live in an image saturated world of artifice and self- obsession and contemporary art today has opened a Pandora’s Box in its quest to unravel the complexities of perception and time. One artist whose work invokes this discourse and critiques our postmodern age is Aroosa Naz Rana. Her immersive videos and stills of everyday life are banal, deceptive and lure the viewer into an unsettling world that uncovers the emptiness of urban life, negating our perception of reality as we know it. The familiar becomes unfamiliar and our discomfort is palpable as we become insidious voyeurs of public and private spaces.”



Asma Ibrahim



Asma Ibrahim shares her journey of setting up the State Bank Museum in conversation with Nimra Khan. She said It was a very good experience; I had a free hand and the State Bank never interfered with my work. The funds were already allocated by the Governor and there was a small scale museum planned in the hallway but I also brought the surrounding rooms into it as galleries. They were planned as offices but the bank never objected. This was a heritage building, so I had to design the displays keeping in mind that nothing could be demolished or changed, so that was a challenge. So first I did the conservation of the building and then I started acquiring all the collections slowly. I had worked as a curator of coins in the National Museum for a long time so I knew all these private collectors. The State Bank didn’t have any collections when I joined but now we have a very comprehensive collection with all the coins from this area starting from the barter system till e banking, without leaving out a single year in the middle. So that’s why it’s a very unique museum perhaps in the world and a lot of scholars discuss this in their talks as well. Then I got a few paintings from Peshawar and a few other places. The collection of Sadequain’s paintings we have in the art gallery were painted specially for the State Bank, but we have a lot of donations from private collections coming in now. Amin Gulgee donated us his calligraphic sculpture, and this huge painting by Zahoor ul Akhlaque was donated by Agha Cowasjee. Adil Salahuddin has donated his entire lifetime collection of stamps.



 Basir Mahmood 



“I was a sculptor who started using camera to make his work. It was already a distant experience in some senses. You see, by adopting the camera, I ceased to remain physically in contact with the making process of my work. Back when I quit sculpting, I felt this feeling to be fresh, exciting and, above all, liberating. After many years of practice, I noticed that there is a certain force that I apply even when I am making a film on the characters who are involved and situations they are trying resolve. Very recently, I started to observe the impressions that I leave on my film. Even if I claim that they are self-sustaining procedures, I am eventually making things that I want to see. This is one of the reasons why I decided to edit my own films.” Basir Mehmood answered to one of the questions asked by Philppe Alain Michaud about his sculptural dimensions in his filmic works.



Iftikhar Dadi



Iftikhar Dadi explained the cultural difference between Karachi and Lahore on a question asked by Zohreen Murtaza in an interview, conducted for Art Now Pakistan. He explianed: “The popular and mass cultures of both cities have much in common, as they do with other South Asian urban centers. There are historical and structural conditions for these shared developments. South Asia remains extremely diverse socially, by class, language, place, and religious identity. It is divided between formal habitation and employment, and informal living and work arrangements. The formative role of colonialism in shaping a public sphere that is now partially universalist and democratic, but partly based on vernacular relationships, is salient to understand this development today. In recent years, accelerated urbanization has continued to reproduce divisions in public spheres in new and intensified ways. On the one hand you have the formal economy and labor, regularized housing, and the claim to universal citizenship. And on the other, informalized economic and social affiliations also define the life and work of the majority of people. You have billboards advertising multinational brands, along with wall posters promoting vernacular capitalism as well as urs festivals and sectarian politics. You have claims of being a national citizen that is in tension with belonging to an ethnic and religious subgroup or to a trade or profession.”



Isabel Lewis



In collaboration with Goethe Institut and Karachi Biennale, a two-day workshop of situational choreography was held at NAPA in 2019. Isabel Lewis is a Berlin based situational choreographer who has taken choreography to another level. While giving an interview to Maheen Aziz, Isabel revealed her ideas of exploring this form of art.

“I might be introducing certain topics on the micro phones like storytelling, reading, dancing, speaking as well as making music in a situation and dancing similarly as a host does in a dinner party. Similarly it’s more aesthetics and choreographed version of being a host. In the end, it depends how much people invest in time; they can come in for 15 minutes enjoy the smell, see the space which is decorated or arranged in particular way with plant life, scents, furniture etc and when they leave they have these sensory impressions. There are different moments to focus, attention, eating and tasting, but when people stay for longer period they are able to experience and enjoy all kind of topics but the motive is, no matter how long one stays, should leave with an impression.”



Jamal Shah



Zohreen Murtaza writes: “Jamal Shah’s life and career reads like an embodiment of these ideals; over the years he has continued to reinvent himself successfully each time donning multiple roles as artist, educator, actor, script writer, director and activist. Yet Shah has always maintained that art should be acknowledged as an agent for social change for it has the capacity to recognize the hidden potential of each individual. Transcending boundaries and difference is one of the key functions of art according to Jamal Shah. In one of his interviews he acknowledged this by saying that “only art has the ability to engage people intimately with their surroundings. It helps human beings evolve into productive individuals who are duly trained and sensitized to modern ideas of diversity and democratic principles which provides for the foundation of a tolerant society, a society that encourages positive dialogue” (Azad, 2019)



Mian Ijaz Ul Hassan 



Mian Ijaz Ul Hassan is the most celebrated artist of Pakistan. He has extensively contributed in the Pakistani art and not only he ahs earned as a profilic painter but also as an art critic and art historian. In an interview for Art Now Pakistan, Aasim Akhter questioned Mian’s response toward the allegation that landscape painting is retrogressive. He explicated: “The Urdu-medium artist who hails from a lower middle-class background and cannot articulate his work in English will be known as ‘retrogressive.’ He ends up imitating the environment he sees… It’s a class phenomenon. Secondly, our streets and by-lanes had never been painted before by anyone. Landscape painting was a way of reclaiming your own environment, and to come to terms with yourself. Why is Khalid Iqbal a modern landscapist? There is a hint of metaphysics in those strips that lie between the rural and urban divide. Like Mondrian, he builds his pictures stroke-by-stroke, tone after tone. When he paints water, it is brackish and muddy but when Allah Bux paints water, it appears a fairy would emerge out of its depths. It’s your vision and not your style that brands you modern!
People in Holland got to see their landscape for the first time in painting only after the arrival of Impressionism there.”



Mariah Lookman



“It is understandable that I am referred to as diaspora- I don’t see myself like that. I just happen to live in many cities -that is all. For example, my mother was born in Calcutta, father Bombay (now Mumbai), both sets of grandparents and great-grandparents elsewhere. I think the difference is I never choose, one or the other, I just keep acquiring more.” Mariah Lookman replied to a question.



Jovita Alvares further asked that how does commuting between cities affect Lookman’s practice and professional work? “I definitively love the travel part and moving around part. While it does definitely inspire, the down side is that it can also be distracting and break concentration. I get energized through travel and it keeps me in check from getting intellectually lazy.”



Muhammad Zeeshan



On a question asked by Nageen Sheikh about how important is it for Karachi to have biennales, Zeeshan replied “Any genre of art is the most effective way to communicate with the public. As an artist or a curator, I believe we have very modest institutional galleries and spaces to discuss environmental themes. Events such as biennials are a great way to engage the public and communicate with the public on a larger scale.
Ecology or these specific art practices are not restricted to Karachi and its inhabitants, everyone has an ownership of them. Thus, a public event like this forms a great basis to discuss these issues.”



Naiza Khan



Inquiring upon Naiza Khan’s practice, in an interview conducted in Jan 2018, Nimra Khan asked that why does Naiza Khan continue to work with sea? Is it her love for the sea or strategic and geographical importance of sea for Karachi? She replied that she was not a sea person but the relation of the land and the sea is quite interesting. People enjoy this relationship by writing or painting about it and I want to talk about the physical experiences.



“I find the politics of the port city really interesting now; of course we know Karachi’s strategic position in the supply chain much more now with the Chinese BRI project and CPEC. So I’m thinking about the ocean as a wider more expansive space, more so now because I’m based in London so I’m thinking about Karachi and the ocean in a different way. The sea is definitely a kind of an abstract kind of a thing that I’m researching also but it’s also based out of a very direct experience of living in a port city – can’t get away from the ocean.”



Nusra Latif Qureshi
Nusra Latif Qureshi shared how living in Australia affected her art practice in an interview conducted by Amber Hammad.”I mostly find it liberating being considered just an artist. My cultural sensibility is still based in Pakistan, though it is augmented by living next to various cultures thriving in Australia; I bring many rich traditions to it and in turn, accept what other cultures bring with them. I do not carry the weight of explaining my Pakistani tradition and culture to a ‘western’ audience. One reason for this stance is that there is no isolated or ‘pure’ tradition in any culture; all living cultures lend and borrow, cull and adopt from the ones in their vicinity. Right now, a social stagnation is visible in many societies as they strive for a puritan state. At the same time, there is an inundation of communication technology with its potential sophistication to overcome boundaries and borders of all kinds. Furthering that thought I find the artists obsessing over a ‘traditional’ grandeur are only copying themselves to exhaustion with watered-down versions of their earlier works.”



Rashid Rana 



Rohma Khan introduced Rashid Rana as a superman in an interview. She praised how zealously Rana takes up his roles as a Dean, artist, curator and educationist and sincerely performs his duties. Khan asked Rana that how he plays multiple roles in his professional sphere-visual artist, curator, educator, Dean. How do these roles inform each other? “In my head I don’t separate these roles, they are all linked. You could say I am an existentialist with perpetually realigning and changing objectives, with emphasis on materialistic inquiry. As far as values are concerned, one way to look at it could be that we have come into this world to work – we should do our part (of the work) and leave, but another interesting vantage point, closer to my belief system is that we are a part of a larger creative process. Digging deeper into creative process and expression, the highest form of expression is the Universe itself and you are inherently made to fit into it as a viable part of the whole. I find it very natural and exciting to innovate and create in such a way that it falls under the larger discussion of expression.” Rana answered.



Riffat Alvi



Known as a painter and sculptor, Riffat Alvi is the senior most and famous artist. In an interview given to Art Now, Noor Ahmed inquired about her practices. Alvi shared her deep vision of why she chose earth to be her medium. “Mansoor Rahi told me that I had a talent for painting but I really became a painter instead of a sculptor as a compromise to my mother. The sculptor in me never really went away though; even my early oil and watercolor paintings from the 80s were much layered. Then upon a visit to Zimbabwe in 1991 I came across Helen Leros who was working with earth pigments in emulation of the indigenous folk artists and I was inspired to substitute my chemical tube paints for this natural pigment. We are made of earth and to the earth we shall return so I thought it was very appropriate for earth to be the medium through which I explored the nuances of lived experiences. The first pigments that I collected in Zimbabwe were scraped off the side of a hill. It was very hands on in the same way that sculpting is.”



Saba Qizilbash



Zohreen Murtaza: Your “Cultures” (2016) series references two basic motifs, geography and the body. There is a sort of marking of territory and its incongruences are highlighted in this process. Can you elaborate on why and what your concerns were as you executed this series?  


“The ‘Cultures’ series began after I concluded a very large painting that took over 9 months to complete. The formal language that I was employing in the painting was far from the larger concerns that weighed on me at the time. I decided to put away my brushes and go back to drawing. I realized I needed to work in a medium that allowed me erasure, layering and excavation. I had been obsessing over the visual of a starchy white dress shirt that is the staple of a white collar worker. Always ironed to perfection and hung in a clean closet, one never chances upon it discarded by a road side. I would enter my studio early in the morning, position myself in my work station, then take a white dress shirt, crumple it and drop it to the floor. I would then sketch the shirt observing the position the shirt would land on the floor. I made over a hundred of these drawings. In each drawing, the entangled sleeves would create a forensic language describing how the shirt had fallen victim. I gradually began to draw these fallen shirts looming above and against dark landscapes and abandoned spaces.”



Sacha Kagan



Sacha Kagan has extensively written and researched on Art and sustainability. In an interview he answered a question asked by Maheen Aziz on the current focus of artists on Art and  Sustainability but how can art contribute?



“Art can contribute to this in many ways; there are a lot of potential roles and many artists can feel relevant and can approach it in many ways, including symbolism. Some artists are working on imaginaries, working on the imaginaries of potential futures – which is not just one way because to find solutions we have to be creative to have multiple imaginaries and possibilities of solutions to respond to ecological crisis. So working on imaginations and opening them up is important and allowing people to be unconventional and break up the existing social conventions and habits and ways of living that we find so evident… and making the alternatives more attractive or interesting!”



Sajjad Ahmed



Sajjad Ahmed has been working on more than one subject and multiple ideas but all his work could be observed as paths leading to one focul point. Exploring nature and human existence he sees the world in its entirety. In an interview conducted by Ammara Jabbar, she questioned the strong thread of poetry in Ahmed’s work on which she replied that he has been fascinated by human exploration and evolution over tremendous number of years. “Nature and humans are one as humans are nature. What human tries to create is, if, not in sync with nature, the nature takes its toll. There has been constant learning and conciliation between the thread of poetry in form of the man-made and nature being enabled within a singular unit in my artworks is nothing different that the aforementioned evolution of human journey. It is poetic because the learning and conciliation, is itself poetic that has been constantly happening between the two since pre-historic period to this moment.”



Seher Tareen



“The motivation behind COMO was to celebrate the contemporary and modern art of Pakistan and in doing so create a space for public engagement. The goal was to create museum going culture in Pakistan. We have a very strong art footprint in the region, both with our modern masters and contemporary artists. And though many have achieved global recognition I felt that it was equally, if not more, important to preserve and promote their work within Pakistan.” Tareen discussed her focus of introducing COMO in an interview with Nimra Khan.



Sheherezade Alam



“Over millennia pottery has been shaped to serve a variety of functions and interests that are inextricably linked to the social and cultural milieu in which they were first conceived. One also cannot speak of ceramics without considering the role, process and relationship of the ceramist with his/her medium. Ceramic production involves the use of basic natural elements like clay, water, air, fire but the kind of physical investment, commitment and rigor that is required in order to gain mastery over the medium so as to create something of aesthetic value is what sets it apart from other disciplines. Yet ceramist Sherezade Alam makes this process seem effortless.” zohreen Murtaza



Sumaira Tazeen



Artists are believed to be sensitive people and their work revolves around their experiences and observations that becomes mainly their subjects; let it be relationships, alienation, nature, and migration etc. Sumaira Tazeen believed that moving to Canada from Pakistan was a roller coaster ride for her. In an exclusive interview with Art Now, conducted by Jovita Alvares, she shared that migration was not easy for her. “Indeed moving from one continent to another was a huge leap in almost all aspects of life. It certainly affected my art practice too. I would say it mostly affected me in terms of subject as I have always worked with personal and social narratives. I investigate the conceptual discourse of how traumatic events disrupt the identity construct (gender/female)…..As a female artist in the diaspora; I explore narratives on social issues that are important to me, such as displacement, abuse, alienation and belonging.”



Veeda Ahmed



Emily Pott in an interview with Veeda Ahmed asked her about the idea of using motifs and symbols in her works. “There are things that come up again and again. Trees come up a lot, and branches, I don’t have one form or motif that is repeated, it is not like this anymore. This is why I don’t consider myself a modern artist. I don’t make a plan, I follow my heart. I am doing ‘moons,’ I read something and a seed is planted in my mind and an idea arises to paint 365 moons. So, I begin constructing with my pump compass to see how to place 365 moons within an oval. This takes a long time to configure. Then I start filling up the circles using hand ground palladium and each moon somehow has a different face.”



Wardah Shabbir



“I am a collector of butterflies and insects…I like collecting things that are pretty but also they are not. My work has come out of stories such as “Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka. There are many layers to literary meaning and that gives an artist lots of room to explore and understand.” Shabbir shared.



So what prompted this transition from miniature painting to installation? We discuss her unusual display for her Solo Show at Rohtas 2 in 2012 and her latest preoccupation: experiential spaces in art? Zohreen Murtaza asked. “I always wanted to create experiences that went beyond viewing a painting on the wall. I wanted to hold the finger of my viewer and take them into the work. My first step towards the idea of provoking interaction in my work actually involved covering the whole gallery space with a carpet of grass and I asked everyone to take off their shoes and enter the space. I had hung my paintings in the space. There was rotting meat on the table. Taxidermy crows. People were served sour candies. Everything had to be intense. The human sensorium was important. I was actually taking away choice from the viewer.”



Zahra Khan



Pakistan’s entry in the Venice Biennale was one of the proud moments in the art calendar of 2019. Zahra Khan opened up about the parallels between Karachi and Venice and said: “While considering the dialogue between Pakistan and Venice, the parallels between Karachi and Venice stood out. One of the most immediate and important similarities is the presence of water which surrounds Venice and is also an important characteristic of Karachi. Both are port cities within historic transnational trade routes and have had to negotiate modernity and industrialisation. They have strong enduring maritime associations. Karachi is Pakistan’s largest city, and it continues to be Pakistan’s most significant port. Venice is an extremely popular tourist destination and the Arsenale, where the Biennale takes place, is still a major shipyard. Climate change and rapidly transforming ecologies are leading both cities to rethink some of their local policies.”



Zain Mustafa



Nimra Khan writes “His approach to design focuses on creating experiences rather than spaces, working with a sound understanding of geographical and historical context, as well as the character essence of the individual the design is meant for. “I need to smell it, sense it… I need to visit the site to be able to create an experience for you. I need to talk to you to learn a little about your life. Only then will a coherent picture emerge of two scents – one of you and the other of your space. Together, these help me design,” he tells Carolina D’Souza of the Gulf News (2010). The result is a rejection of the mechanical, copy-paste approach that worships Western methodologies, in favour of a more creative and emotive process, drawing inspiration from eclectic sources while remaining rooted in the local culture and resources. He believes that before looking outside for inspiration, we need to look within. There is a necessary awareness of contextual relevance and a concern with who it is for, what its purpose is and where it is situated.”




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