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Roohi S. Ahmed

Roohi Ahmed is presently pursuing her Masters degree in Fne Art from College of Fine Art, University of South Wales, Sydney. Previously she held the post of Associate Professor at Indus Valley School of Art & Architecture, Karachi. She secured her degrees from School of Arts, Karachi and School of Visual Arts, New York. For over 17 years, Roohi Ahmed has exhibited her work in group and solo exhibitions both nationally & internationally and has also attended residencies in UK, India, Pakistan & Bangladesh.
ArtNow: So much of your practice revolves around the idea of the body and yet your views on exposing the human body are consciously conservative. How do you resolve this dichotomy?
RSA: From my point of view there is no dichotomy. I am very clear about my relationship to the human body and if viewers imagine a dilemma in my work, it is because it is present in their outlook and simplistic understanding. The body in my work is the universal body representing, the issue of physical existence and the myriad influences that are associated with it. It is not my body, per se, nor does it need to be. All the tactile elements in my work represent the physicality of the body and the idea of conservatism or liberalism has no place in the discourse.
AN: Sewing is an integral part of your practice. What does the needle and thread signify for you?
RSA: I was taught to sew from an early age and can stitch my own clothes. I am comfortable with the manipulations of needle and thread and this facility has naturally found its way into my praxis. Over the years, I have used the needle and the thread as objects of metaphor, and have even literally sewn my art works. I use it because it is an innate part of who I am. The process of stitching also mirrors the processes I use to resolve my artworks and I respond to the outcome of both in a similar manner.
AN: What kinds of freedoms would you think an artist should have? How far does the parameter of freedom extend for you personally?
RSA: Freedom is such a relative term that it is impossible to define and demarcate in rigid parameters or boundaries. The significance of the word differs from person to person, from community to community and even country to country. But I believe that societies develop when people create their own freedoms in keeping with societal norms and values. The artist too has a responsibility to the community and must be sensitive to its paradigms. My personal freedom has been determined by the encouragement from my parents to continuously explore, discover and develop as a person and as an artist.
AN: At your exhibition at Canvas Gallery in February this year, your video shocked and delighted audiences at the same time. Was the shock element part of the narrative?
RSA: Sensationalism has never been my objective. It has no place in my practice, but a strong emotive expression requires an equally powerful statement. The video was deliberately slow and detailed to encompass the idea of a long lapse of time to emulate an extended and arduous personal journey. The stitching of the epidermis of the palm seemed painful but more agonizing was the removal of the stitches that left the mark on my hand for many days after I had done the performance. That, for me represents the indelible mark of memory.
AN: The idea of the “Gathrie” or bundle is an ongoing investigation in your work. Why is it close to your heart?
RSA: The ‘gathrie’ or bundle is metaphorical apparatus in my work and comes from a commonly found image that has deep ramifications. It harks to the safety of the womb but there’s more to it. The fact that it is a flat piece of covering and only takes shape when the objects inside it are put there is significant, much like the human body or the mind or even our memory banks. My ‘gathries’ are not light and buoyant but heavy and loaded. The allusion to the cloth or covering is also vital to the image because fabric and skin become equivocal and interchangeable Everyday aphorisms pertaining to ‘chadar’ and its connotations of purity also adds weight to the idea.
AN: You are presently pursuing a Masters degree at UNSW? What has been your experience of Australia and its art industry? What is their focus? How introspective are they?
RSA: Yes, I am doing an MFA at UNSW in the area of Drawing. Sydney is a beautiful city; I have enjoyed every moment of being here. COFA fosters an environment of multi disciplinary exploration, and with my background in sciences and varied interests, it suits me very well. To be honest, I don’t think that I have gained an insight into the Australian art industry in the brief time that I have been here, but I have seen diversity. Works are being executed involving the traditional as well as contemporary processes. They value their strong aboriginal art tradition, as well as contemporary and cross-disciplinary approach in art.
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