Four young artists have been approached for this interview, whose works emerge from personal narratives investigating personal, social and cultural id
Four young artists have been approached for this interview, whose works emerge from personal narratives investigating personal, social and cultural identities, often through memory and history, while expressing them in an individually derived vocabulary using distinct mediums. In a short span of time they have made a mark nationally and internationally with their work and have become a source of inspiration for art students and emerging artists.
Hajra Haider Karrar: The breakthrough point in your practice was a drastic shift in not just your vocabulary and palette but also your medium; what inspired this change?
In your opinion, how important is it to be inspired and what is the role of inspiration in your practice? How do you process it?
Rehana Mangi: I had a habit, inherited from my grandmother, of unconsciously collecting fallen hair, in order to prevent “black magic” (which is often practiced on human hair).
In my final year at college, I was losing a lot of hair due to some stressful circumstances. During that period I became detached from my surroundings. I preferred solitude and meditation, which helped me discover myself. I recalled childhood memories, and started making “cross-stitch”, a form of counted thread embroidery I had learnt when I was twelve and immensely enjoyed practicing. It is a complex technique in which every stitch and pattern created is counted and calculated. It was a good exercise to keep my mind busy. I started using hair as metaphor of loss and death, and I picked colourful patterns from my childhood memories like flowers and butterflies stitched on my pillow covers back in Larkana. I started to stitch these patterns on wasli using the fallen hair. There is a meticulous process involved in my practice, making grids, punching holes and then stitching. My own cultural practice and stories related to my past inspired me. My tutor, Imran Qureshi, encouraged me to explore further and I appreciate the freedom of selection of material and scale given to us at that point.
Marina Abramovic said, “An artist should look deep inside himself for inspiration”. There are many hidden clues in terms of inspiration in our self, life, culture, past, present and even daily life experiences; inspiration can automatically be seen in any artist’s work; there is an important role of inspiration behind any art work; it is a reflection of the thought process of an artist.
HHK: Your work is deeply embedded in aspects of social and cultural identity. What is it that inspires and connects you to the narratives which are distant yet very near to you?
Your work has mostly been exhibited internationally. Do you think your audiences understand the grave connotations present in the multiple layers of your minimalistic works? Do you ever feel pressured to produce work which is anchored in the local context?
Basir Mahmood: My earlier works were related to social and cultural identity, now I am not very particular. I develop my work through observations. Observations I make of my surroundings, the situations I am in – this has been one of my strategies for sustaining freshness in my work. It has also been a reason why travelling naturally became a vital part of my practice in the past few years.
My work is an outcome of the conversations I have with myself. This is how I personalize each and every work. This process is important to me, the most; at times the work itself becomes secondary.
While making a work, I often shift my position from an artist to a viewer. I like the position of a viewer, this position I take with no understanding of art. Then I break all the complexities to the basics, to reach a wider audience.
I am in complete denial of carrying a specific identity while making a work. The struggle is to make the viewer believe, that I think like them and make them forget where I come from.
HHK: Teaching has been an integral part of you. You started teaching even before graduating. How does this link inform your practice?
How much of a role did art education play in inspiring your practice? Do you feel that the models applied today in art education are inspirational for the artists in training?
Ali Kazim: Yes, that’s right, I have been involved in teaching throughout my career apart from a two years gap I took to pursue a Master’s degree.
I think teaching is an exchange between the two. If it becomes one-sided then it changes into one of the most boring jobs. I feel I have learned a lot over the period of time, not only by teaching but also by becoming a student again, where I got a chance to observe the education system from a students’ perspective. I also noticed the differences in teaching methodologies and the students’ commitment with the studio hours. Travelling and exposure to the art, all these facts have helped me rethink about my practice. It’s hard to single out the teaching only.
I am not sure how much art education/teaching has inspired my practice but for sure, initially it helped me to stay and practice in the same field. I think that was a very crucial point for me at that stage of my career.
I do not think the models applied in our education system are up to the mark but fortunately the system is not stagnant; it is evolving which is a very positive sign.
HHK: Your drawings are built upon stories of Sufi traditions you heard as a child from the village elders.
In the last couple of years there has been an emergence of emerging artists producing works influenced by your practice. What do you think inspires them in your work?
Were you ever influenced by any artist at the starting point of your practice? Do you feel that your inspiration and the inspiration of these emerging artists coincide at some point?
Waqas Khan: Honestly, I have no idea. It could be a number of things. Each viewer finds their own connection or association in my work. Similarly, it is quite possible that the artists following the same vocabulary have found a connection which they feel is accurate for their expression.
This vocabulary is not new, it has existed at different periods of time, either as pointillism or minimalism. My work may have been a trigger in the resurgence of it as I have seen works in a similar fashion from not just Pakistan but also other parts of the world.
There are always trends within the field of arts which are followed, whether impressionism or cubism. In the recent times, it would be the usage of certain symbols/objects, animals/insects or religious iconography which have been used. At such times, the emerging works tend to have traces of these trends, which with the passage of time shift on to another trend.
I was inspired by the art form of dance and movement. That is the crux of my practice. If you look at my work, your eye does not stand still for a moment, it keeps moving with the flow of the points I render. Yet, every point is complete in itself.
Probably, it is all about connections. These lines all connect at some point.
Waqas Khan, Breath of Compassionate, Archival black ink on white wasli paper. 30.2 cm x 43.5 cm, 2012. Image courtesy artist and Sabrina Amrani Gallery.
Basir Mahmood, One For Each, Two For All (Triptych), Acrylic Face Mounted Photo Rag, 30cm by 45 cm, 2013. Images are courtesy of the artist and Grey Noise Gallery.
Rehana Mangi, Vehano (pillow),Gouache, animal hair and tea wash on wasli paper, 21×27 inches , 2013. Image courtesy Usman Javaid.
Ali Kazim, Untitled Self-Portrait With Cloud and Untitled 3 (Storm Series). Images courtesy the artist.
Hajra Haider Karrar is a independent curator based in Karachi. Currently she is the curator of IVS Gallery, Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture, Karachi.
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