- You have a very interesting background. You were born in Iran, raised in Pakistan, and recently, you moved to the United States. Could you please, tell us your experience with art? When did it start?
Yes, I was born in Iran to an Iranian mother. My father was Pakistani and we moved to Pakistan when I was five. I spent most of my entire summer breaks in Iran, taking all kinds of art classes. I guess it’s safe to say that I was introduced to art at an early stage in my life and as time went on, I was encouraged to pursue it as a career. Though in his heart, my father being a surgeon himself, wanted me to be a doctor. However, my brain wasn’t wired that way, so he gave up on his pursuits at the time. I recall him making several attempts to convince me. He would often say, “art is everywhere and in everything, you just need to learn to see it! I want you to see art in my practice.”
2. Do you consider yourself an activist? Could you tell us about the significance of any social and political issues in your art, if any?
I resist categorization, but I have also learned that categories are inevitable. As an artist of color, a woman, a mother, a wife, an immigrant, a transnational, an Iranian, a Pakistani, an Iranian-Pakistani female artist living in the United States, a South Asian Muslim and so forth, there are plenty of categories to swim in and out of. The real issue is how the work steers through these categories. Art has been a deeply personal vehicle for me to confront ambiguities, hierarchies, and misrepresentations of our time. If being an activist means, “a person who campaigns for some kind of social change,” I don’t know who doesn’t.
3. What brought you to the United States? And why have you decided to study at Southern Methodist University, since you already have a master’s degree in arts?
My husband is a telecoms engineer and was transferred to the US for work. I decided to pursue my second Masters at SMU five years after we moved, for various reasons. I have always been interested in teaching; it’s the life I left behind and the experience that I miss the most from my time back in Pakistan. My previous degree is titled MA(Hons.) Visual Arts, Lahore. However, American institutions prefer an MFA degree. But more importantly, I wanted to get into the system to be able to understand it better. I didn’t know what to expect from colleges and universities here. Right now, I’m happy to report that there is not much of a difference, except that it’s a hell of a lot more expensive!
4. Your miniature work contains an extreme amount of details. How do you achieve this? Where does the patience for this kind of work come from?
Well, I graduated from the National college of Art, Lahore in 2006. Here, I was formally trained in the discipline of miniature painting. I opted for miniature painting as a major for various reasons. It was, perhaps, primarily due to my affinity towards details. But then, Persian and South Asian styles have lent each other one of the most amazing mergers in the history of miniature painting. For the eighteen-year old me, it was a way to make sense of a mergence of both my identities. Back then, NCA was the only institution that offered miniature painting as a major. Even till date, I am not aware of any institution that does this. And there I was, in the middle of it! How could I not take this opportunity and try to make the most of it?
To answer your second question, I have been asked this same question several times. I am not patient with everything, I lend my patience to only a handful of things that are dear to me, call it labor of love. But then, being a mother and a wife also teaches you some lessons…
5. You have a solo exhibition at The Reading Room gallery. What did you show there and what impacted the selection of your works?
The works at The Reading Room have been generously curated by Karen. I Am a Tree is a series that I started during my residency at Australian National University in 2012, and it continues building up, even till date. Whereas, Toranj i and ii started last year.
In this exhibition, I used two literary sources. The first is an excerpt from Orhan Pamuk’s novel; My Name is Red, the story of a tree’s drawing that never found its way to a book accompanying the story. The drawing of the tree is displaced across two pages, providing an urge and yearning to find out the story it was meant to illustrate.
The second is a poem by the 14th century Persian and Sufi poets Kwaju and Hafez, Toranj (The Bergamot) is a conversation between two people, or perhaps, God interrogating man. The poem alludes to the status of a bergamot orange as an attribute that is unattainable and unruly.
Combining the two leads to the projection of bergamot trees on Orhan Pamuk’s text, two leaves of paper joined together by a painted bergamot tree.
6. What are the symbolic elements and meanings behind the world you show at The Reading Room?
The strong use of literary sources, the use of text in the works, the Artist book, and the folios on the wall. They all refer to reading the image.
7. In your work, which is more important, the process or the final painting?
I value the final product as much as the process. If I have to choose between “which one is your favorite child?” I wouldn’t know which to choose. Process is a teacher; it leads, directs, and trains. As an artist, it’s valuable. The final product is what tells your story to the world. As a viewer, it’s valuable.I value the final product as much as the process. Click To Tweet
8. Where do you find inspiration for your work?
If I say the complex lives we live never fails to inspire me, will that be a cliché?
9. What does contemporary mean in art?
The art of Now. Art that responds to a globally-influenced, culturally-diverse, and technologically-advancing world. And by this, I don’t mean art that is devoid of history or one that defies all past. Because, it responds, reacts, and creates a dialogue with it, to make a much better sense of today’s complex world.
10. “The Sun Never Set” series is a very different approach to what you normally do in painting. What does this new work mean?
As an interdisciplinary artist, I explore various means of telling my stories. The Sun Never Sets is a performance piece. Others are video installations, while some others are sound pieces. I find it very effective to be able to speak five different languages. In the same vein, I believe crossing disciplines/languages in art is effective in expressing the complex narratives that I explore in my practice.
The Sun Never Sets is a performance piece. Here, I served English Earl Gray tea, Maria Biscuits with sugar cubes in seventy-one Imperial white teacups and saucers, on white table clothes. It was a three-hour performance where, initially, the audience activated the space, poured tea, walked away, and came back with a dirty cup and saucer, placing it on the table. In the second half, I brought two white buckets with water, washed the cups, and meticulously, stacked them back up in their original place. The symbolic references to seemingly banal and harmless activity of drinking tea refers to the colonial dynamics, the 71 teacups symbolizes 71 years of India-Pakistan partition and post colonialism.