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Studio Visit: Sanat Residency

Located near Karachi’s most sought after attraction – Sea View – the residency takes place in an airy apartment with natural sunlight filtering in through the open windows. Stepping in you are immediately greeted by a large hall to the right, brimming with art material and process work. It is early Sunday afternoon and the artists, some still clad in their pajamas, move around the place at absolute ease, some already at work while simultaneously cigarettes, tea and conversations flow freely. A group of seven individuals, for most of them this is their first visit to the city, selected through a process of careful screening by a board of persons ranging from educationists, art collectors and from within the financial sector. This is the second Sanat Residency to take place and to be curated once again by established visual artist Muhammad Zeeshan.
The Sanat Residency in a short period of time has provided not only a much needed platform for artists but has also generated appreciation and support from within the local art fraternity. There was a void in artist’s residency projects within not only the city but the country. While there have been initiatives from others over the years, the Sanat Residency programme seems to be well on the way to running smoothly without prolonged gaps between residencies. Abid Merchant, a banker by profession and an art connoisseur at heart, chose an early retirement from the corporate field and decided after much thoughtful deliberation and careful planning to launch the Sanat Initiative. The word ‘Sanat’ literally means ‘art’ in Turkish and its logo consisting of four points represent the initiative’s upcoming projects, the gallery space, the residency and its publications.
While in conversation with the artists, you can immediately pick up on the various personalities and the subtleties of group dynamics. Six graduates hailing from NCA in Lahore and one from North City School of Art in Karachi, they are already well acquainted and happy to be working together. Artist in Residence Zahid Mayo is keen to work on collaborative pieces with the others. Mayo, who recently showed at the IVS Gallery, enjoys working with drawings of large groups of people. He recaps his visit to Sunday Bazaar where he stood sketching the crowds on old cardboard and interacting with the passersby. The artists are mostly working with their previous themes and concepts, some of them have weaved in their experience at the residency into the work they are currently producing. Mamoona Riaz’s work revolves around the experience of coming to terms with the stark difference in lifestyles – from slow paced, serene Islamabad to the energetic hustle of Karachi. A trained miniaturist, she is using the concept of the intricate concept of Shamsa devised during the Mughal period which refers to ‘Oneness’ and translating it into mechanical cogs along with the use of maps dating back to the 1950s. Her work is based around the feeling of an invasion of space and the influences of material and found objects such as dead insects, which she enjoys collecting.
Nyrah Mushtaq, wearing a band of large pink roses on her head, is the voice of the group bursting with enthusiasm. She says with a laugh, “the residency is like giving your thesis all over again”. When questioned about the difference of a residency from that of thesis life, they are unanimous in agreeing to the fact where a thesis has its academic restriction; a residency comes with no restrictions at all. They are free to work as they please and schedule their work hours to what suits them best. The group has found its own lingo and is respectful of each other’s work ethics. They have learnt to communicate and adapt to each other’s idiosyncrasies.
We are joined by Zeeshan, who has shed his signature ponytail, donning a newer quirkier look he talks about his experience as an advisor and how residencies help shape an artist. “Studio practices vary from person to person, as a curator or an advisor you walk into a space with a different mask each time; as an academic advisor you are accountable for the amount of time you spend with each student, you are allocated a certain syllabus and a particular timetable. As a residency curator, you can walk in at any time that suits you, conversations are less structured and of a more personal nature. You hardly interfere with an artist in residency’s work. At the end of the day, it’s about the studio process and not about the gallery exhibition. I believe as an artist you can put up fifty solo shows but the learning experience and progress an artist makes through even solo days of studio bonding in a residency is incomparable.”
A point to note is the residency has fewer female artists than males much like the last residency. When questioned about the ratio, the response was the lack of female applicants altogether. Zeeshan feels it’s mainly because of our cultural stance. Women are less encouraged to partake in such experience, which is a highly unfortunate matter. Another reason, Abid Merchant adds, is the disappearance of female artists from the art scene much earlier on in their careers. At graduation time there will be more female graduates but eventually you observe there are more male working artists. He says, “I have bought some great work from female artists but unfortunately right after graduation they chose to stop producing art”. Merchant, who has no formal training in arts, has been an avid art collector for years. Zeeshan shares that Merchant will attend not only the previews to purchase art but will make it a point to attend the show’s opening – “it’s his way of showing his respect to the artists and his genuine appreciation for the work.’’
Along with a lack of female applicants, there’s also not much of a response of applicants from within Karachi.
As the conversation ebbs to mundane topics, the artists start wandering off into their spaces to restart work. Artist Wajahit Ali produces his work in what looks like a walk-in cupboard. The nature of his practice requires absolute darkness and complete concentration. He is working with invisible ink and is known to work three to four hours at a stretch. Another artist, Hussain Jamil, takes his cue from nautanki (theatre) while employing a stylized element and caricaturized faces to his miniatures. He adds and subtracts different components from his imagery to integrate modern day life within a historical framework.
Artist Naveed Siddiqi amalgamates paint, sculpture and print along with convex mirrors to produce ambiguous compositions. In regard to his work he says, “I’m making the personal impersonal, wanting the viewer to analyze it from different angles and viewpoints.”
Working in solitude up on the roof, Saud Baloch is producing sculptures with fiber glass. He is creating small boris and figurines to indicate the sociopolitical state of the country.
After the success of its predecessor, ‘Incubator’, it is exciting to witness not just the physical but emotional effort that the artists in residence are devoting to their upcoming show. Zeeshan recollects how there were tears at the end of the first residency; the artists were reluctant to leave after their artistically enriching experience. It is not often that a young artist is offered such opportunities: Free of financial constraints, provided ample working space and the chance to meet with some of the country’s finest art critics and artists. These factors alone allow an artist to grow substantially in a short period of time. Their residency show titled ‘Anomalous’ will open on 5th December 2014 at the Sanat Gallery.
The residency aims at cultivating long lasting relationships amongst the people involved, to allow them to nurture their talent and also expand their communication outreach. As Zeeshan very aptly puts it, “a residency is just the starting point; it allows an artist a chance to take on new challenges and pursue their art careers in a wider context.”
Aniqa Imran graduated from Indus Valley in 2012 with a Bachelor’s in Fine Art and is currently working for the Foundation for Museum of Modern Art in Karachi.
Images courtesy Sanat Initiative.
– See more at: http://www.artnowpakistan.com/articles.php?article=Studio-Visit:-Sanat-Residency#sthash.khAUZbk0.dpuf

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