Tag Archives: art practice

Debunking the Myth of the Artist?

I stopped writing. Suddenly, I had nothing more to say than the occasional 140 characters on Twitter. But a student showed me something she wrote – something so honest and painful and here I am again. What particularly struck me was the belief of my students that anything was possible in my studio class. Anything. And that, just that, reduced me to tears. What have I done?

In building the myth, I broke my own heart.

This myth of the artist is a notion I need to address over and over – in my work and in teaching young people who want to make things. The sheer responsibilty of it scares me silly. Every day I am frightened of what I might be doing. I am not ashamed, I am simply very, very scared.

I found something I wrote a few years ago in a statement of purpose for something I barely recall.  And all I could read in it was the damn myth:

If I were to really think about it, the question simply asks me who I am. Or maybe, what I am. Or what I think I am. This, ofcourse, existing within the context of art-making and studying art. Then who indeed is this I? And what makes me different or distinct as a student and an artist? I am compelled to make art. Whenever something happens, I make art about it. I don’t even know what to call it anymore. It has become a default process. A reflex action. I document my life through my work. I tell my story through my work. It is my language – a language I’m still learning how to speak.

It is the honest truth, but what rot! It sounds like emotional bullshit.

Can I claim this makes me distinct? I’m just trying to understand who I am. Perhaps my work can help others understand something. I question the functionality of art-making. I question what it can do. I value teaching, which has helped me as I have helped my students. I want to continue teaching for the rest of my career.

And then the justification:

There is a question others ask me, and I ask myself: What good is any of this? What is the point of it all? I cannot know everything all at once but I do know it’s important in the greater scheme of things. Artists represent the time and space of now.

It all sounds so thought out and complete and utter bullshit at the same time. The truth is, I don’t know what good it is anymore. I don’t know if what I do makes any sense. I have no clue.

Yesterday, a friend told me quite truthfully that he didn’t get my work. And he sounded apologetic. And that made me very sad indeed. Why should he feel the need to apologize? You either like something or you don’t. You either care or you don’t. This insane pressure to understand and appreciate art also frightens me. All I did was make a few drawings because I was pining away for somebody who doesn’t give a shit. And then I put it up on the wall to satisfy my exhibitionist urge to display my tragic broken heart. And my friend was apologizing for not getting it and for not liking it as much as he assumed I wanted. So this is what it comes to?

I am sick of the myth. I am sick to death of the pressure this myth puts on other people. Good people who are kind and generous. Also, I hate what the myth does to us – to the artists who live it. To young students who believe in it because you (as their teacher/mentor) look so cool spreading it like it was the absolute. You make them think it is all OK and then they face the world as handicapped as you are. With no weapons but the myth itself.

Inbetween Days

The summer is always a dangerous time. I hide in the summer. It is an old habit. And so, I find myself sleepless and introspective, with too many images floating in my head. I have no choice but to make sense of them. If nothing, I might produce tangible images even if they are only castles made of sand.

What is incoherence? When does meaning collapse? What is responsibility? My body in space is moving and I make a space, a shape in the world. My language rides on my back. My culture rides on my back. I cannot shake them off.

These are inbetween days. And I suffer them. Suffering reveals what is otherwise hidden. But sentimentality can be cloying. Orlan calls her art carnal. Is that like pinning butterflies on walls?

Once upon a time, a woman called Sumaiyya said intellect is irrelevant. She flipped her dark hair and turned her insane gaze on me and said find your instincts. Intellect is illusion.

The instinct to flee and hide takes over. But what about movement and line? One cannot ignore the flesh of the line. Requiems. Subtle grays of memories. Distracted by anticipation of passion. See, connect and do. Connect the dots. Connections are liberties taken in whimsical moments. Yellow piss in a bar. Objects of desire. All flesh and not flesh. So looking for flesh becomes a purpose. Even in lines moving downside up and sideways.

derivations and real behaviors
filling and emptying shells
flickering between violations
inspite and despite visceral visions
deleting instances of discomfort
making clear and unclear remote and indistinct
traitorous, perfidious scum rising to the surface
inbetween days

The Pain of Perspective

Pain: 1. A symptom of some physical hurt or disorder; 2. Emotional distress; a fundamental feeling that people try to avoid; 3. A somatic sensation of acute discomfort; 4. Something or someone that causes trouble; a source of unhappiness

Afflicted with insomnia, I can’t help thinking about where I am now. Everything that surrounds me seems surreal at best. This place, this time and all that has happened in a past few years. Nobody said it would be easy.

 Embody: 1. Represent in bodily form; 2. Represent, as of a character on stage; 3. Represent or express something abstract in tangible form. Personify. Substantiate.

Is meat an abstract notion? Is flesh an abstraction?

On 03/27/07 navin hyder wrote: they dont represent the body, they are the body.

Bodily discharge and libidinal expulsions. These are some of my favorite things. What makes the body real? A sensory experience, perhaps. The realization or awareness of physicality. Such is the body. What is my body?

What is inside me? Inside the ox? Are we all the same inside? Confess your sins. And even then, what is inside remains. Practice with patience your private voyeurism. Why is my body changing? My body, my personal mythology; movement, to and from. Where does it begin and where does it end?

I hate hearts, he said. Have some if you want some.

Some things are felt but not seen. Pulling it out from somewhere, you don’t know where it came from. You see the transparent? You see and don’t see. Not intrusive? Intrude with transparency. Words become images and now what do you see? Do we see anything at all? Inside dark places and spaces, do you see anything at all?

Nonsensical truths in make believe.

Round and round I go. Nonsensical truths in make believe, indeed. Where do all these dreams come and go? I wonder why things are the way they are. Why must I recalibrate myself to fit into spaces that I don’t even care for?

Dream – collaboration between A and Nadia, netmedia drawing, 2005

Memory is seductive. It draws you. You draw it. Losing sense of self. Seductive poetic fantasies. Tired sun caught in a net. My body in space. Spaces insideout and outsidein. Strange powers. Some stories never get old. Light and dark and shade. So long Mr. Grey.

Pulling it out of somewhere. You don’t know where it came from. Drawing it out. You see the intrusive transparency now? Membranes and skin. Seductive veils. Do I see anything at all? Meat. If you cannot see, then you can only feel.

Maybe baby. Things could be the same yet different. Duality vs. Unity. Many vs. One. How now cow? She cries, she flies. Do you remember anything Nadia?

Memory = Lies?

We are all liars? Cutting ties, building lies. Forgetting and unforgetting. What is the space between? Sitting here, I can’t tell. Where am I situated? Between truths and lies, maybe.

Isn’t everything a pattern? Looking for signs in the dark; god, have you left me in the dark? Looking for signs. They were looking for perfection. Humans being.

There is something about spaces. I make a space. I make space.

Hysterical notions. Out of touch. Out of reach. Take it to my knees. There is no substitute for a one way street. Closer now. Parts and one. Soul and identity. Identifiable categories of soul within outside manifestation. Slip into madness. Slip into what is right and wrong. What is normal? I have a perverse interest in perversion.

What isn’t transgression? Stay up and make some memories. Who is watching me smiling to myself as the orange lights pass by the window? Midnight rolls. Living within structures and systems. Don’t you dare! But it’s only one foot out of the door.

Do you freefall once the rules are gone? Do you fall apart when there is no up and down?

I dance in your head and I make disco lights. I’m a dancing brain. Jiggling encephalon. I’m more man than machine. What about you? Are you meat?

Let’s go eat the heroes. Let’s go eat right and wrong. Up and down. Even sideways. I don’t know right from left anyway. Or left from right. But life goes on.

How many of my memories are not made up? With my mind made up too; a game of pretend. A story told and told again, a ball of string growing and growing and growing…and then myths emerge. My personal myths. How many lies, Nadia? She doesn’t know, really. The smell of bread at age five, at the little shop down the street. The red airplane. Look, it really flies. Dusty days. Remote control. Mangoes become soap. Rub it all over your body. The mango seed is orange soap. Mosquitoes like dots on my arms. Feeling my stomach curve outwards. What’s happening to me?! Bumps and lumps. Fingernails painted halfway. Henna sometimes. Isn’t it beautiful. Goat head in the driveway. Blood on the streets. Lazy days hiding from the sun. She’s crazy, that daughter of mine. Weirdo, freak, lunatic. She screams when they hurt her. Why doesn’t she stop screaming? She’s just hysterical, that girl. Oh she’s a cow. Look at her stare wide-eyed at everything. Ugly girl! Your feet are too big. Nobody will marry you. Where does the rage come from doctor? Why does she act so strange? What’s wrong with you?

Nadia, you aren’t good enough.

Where does the screaming come from? Who decides? Who makes the rules? I watch them – so self satisfied in their truths, but all I see is discrepancies. I’ve fallen in love. I’ve fallen out. I’ve fallen into my body. Such a shameful thing. Why did you give it to that boy so easily? You’re just easy. Bad girl.

Why is meat so shameful. They eat it. They tear it apart with glee. Bad girl, aren’t you ashamed of yourself? Your body is sacred. Hide it under layers. Keep it away from bad boys. If you will think too much, you’ll be just like those bad women. What bad women? The ones who aren’t ashamed? They put them in fancy dress and make them dance. Why do you sing so loud? Everyone will hear. They will think you’re bad. Feel guilty for everything. Your body is bad. Bad and ugly. Bad bad bad. Make it stop wanting. Make it stop dancing. Come home and hide in your room. Don’t let them see who you are. It’s your attitude. Its just wrong.

How do you clean what is dirty? This body is dirty? Flesh is dirty? Blood is dirty. You can’t pray in blood. You just cannot. Wash it off. Wash it all out. What if I don’t want to? Enraged, they glare. Headlights. Deer caught in the glare. Doesn’t it make a fine picture? You ring the bell, and the man will come and bring you in. Maybe.

When there is no wrong and no right, where will everyone go? They will fall into empty space. I make my own spaces. I celebrate my spaces. I celebrate my fall from grace. I dance with myself. I can put flesh on my bones.

Egging

Egg Talk (for breakfast)

#1 Crush

Crush: To compress with violence, out of natural shape or condition

To live in fantasy is treacherous. As I revise the myth of the artist, I give myself license (artistic license?) to violate what is real for the world outside of me. The object of my desire is revised in this violation and given shape and form. Do I violate the object? I am compressed out of natural shape and condition with violence.

#1 Crush

Where do we draw the line in the context of artistic license? Can I create a person out of an idea? And then crush myself? Where does pretend stop and real begin? Does it even matter? Keep an open mind, he says. Get real, they say. Get real. And then I open my mind and crush myself. This weight that crushes me is deliciously insinuating. But I like it, I say. And they shake their heads at me. The proverbial them. Are they watching me like I watch them?

Object: A tangible and visible entity; an entity that can cast a shadow; The goal intended to be attained (and which is believed to be attainable); The focus of cognitions or feelings

M: and i find it creepy that they figure out my schedule.”not sleeping yet? why not?” “on a lunch break? not in office?”

Objectify: Make external or objective, or give reality to

Meanwhile, I create a person all by myself. I draw and crush myself with the known and the unknown. I want to be crushed out of shape. Revise me, please. Crush me while I bend you out of shape and mould you into an object of desire.

Object

Who are you? Who are you, really?

Unwoman

“My red skirt is hitched up to my waist, though no higher. Below it the Commander is fucking. What he is fucking is the lower part of my body. I do not say making love, because this is not what he’s doing. Copulating too would be inaccurate, because it would imply two people and only one is involved. Nor does rape cover it: nothing is going on here that I haven’t signed up for.”

From A Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

A friend suggested A Handmaid’s Tale and I cannot help responding to it – in my own context, mostly. This book has shaken me somewhat but I wish to limit my musing to myself and not aspire to make sweeping statements or have opinions about the world of men and women. Frankly, I am as lost as the next person. I am merely a revisionist. I revise myself as I see fit (or unfit). Sometimes, I feel like I have no right to opine on anything since everything revises itself.

My “context” is also revised – by men and women alike. I usually feel like a bystander, watching people tell me who and what I am. I revise myself and I watch as others revise me. And I am aware that I am not a victim. This is just how things are, I suppose, within a social construct. I can only bitch and whine. “Take control” they say. And I nod and plod on. What else is one to do?

I know and don’t really know, how others view me. Communication is deceptive. Sometimes, I catch myself believing them. Sometimes, I feel paranoid and withdraw into myself. No harm done. However, I feel a disconnect that I cannot explain or articulate. Is it the curse of the artist? I keep revising the myth of the artist, you see. We watch and we make. We watch from afar. We watch unseen. We have a gaze – the all powerful gaze, that is borrowed from the world and then given back to the world. The audience takes over and we are gone. Maybe we are living on borrowed sight.

This disconnect is powerful. It takes away my sense of self and emotion. It hollows me. Maybe I am living on borrowed self.

“nothing is going on here that I haven’t signed up for.”

In the book, the word that struck me most was Unwomen: Unwomen are sterile women, widows, feminists, lesbians, nuns, and politically dissident women: all women who are incapable of social integration within the Republic’s strict gender divisions.

Dissedence is deceptively alluring. I am a person who dissents from established policy only to assent to another established policy. The show goes on. Only half of me is really awake. The other half is disconnected.

Condemned to Please, Please

The painter is condemned to please*. The practice of art is cruel. And therefore the artist is terribly romantic and inscrutable; obscure and deliciously mysterious. Art practice becomes even more obscure and informed by glorious muses and the void beyond reason (and so on). This is what they gave us with their history books and their slides. This is what they gave us with their documentaries and biographies. This is what they gave us at art school.

The institution of art school is a strange notion in itself. But I find myself more interested in what it has done to me – and perhaps what I’m doing for it now. I have never really stopped what they started. I am rolling along, absurdly, caught up in my own miseries and the romance of art-induced angst. Do I believe in the myth of the artist? Do I believe in the myth of art-making?

The romance of a torturous, tragic existence is very powerful. Some get so caught up in it, they never leave. Ofcourse, some disregard it completely, but it’s always lurking in the dark corners. While performing the painter, I find myself a little ridiculous. Then I get drawn into the old self and the other rhetoric. And so, I am a romantic soul again. It is a nice self-contained cycle of pleasure and pain.

I am condemned. To please. To give pleasure. Inadvertently, I am condemned to torture. If one is to believe this mythical position, then one must believe in one’s greatness in the larger scheme of things. This causes (in my opinion) a kind of psychological conflict. In this world, there seems to be no time for sentimental introspection. It defeats the purpose of practical techniques and form. In this world, there also seems to be all the time for sentimental introspection. Content must be loaded with profound meaning. In performing the painter (or the artist), one is fucked, really.

The tortured soul of this mythical artist must then be put on display. It must be curated to appear in all its glorious intensity. It must be seen, viewed and taken apart with words and more pictures. It must represent and reflect and “change” something. It must be loaded with meaning, content and comments. The intimidating walls of the gallery consume this tortured, pleasing entity. Or, it is displayed in public to be seen as some kind of effrontry or a tribute to humility. It must define space and time. It must be courageous or cowardly or merely introspective. It is given names like political, psychotic, personal, sentimental, gay, sexual, sexless, present, absent…In this crowd of words and meaning, the myth of the artist and the personal mythology of the artist become one and the same. Or maybe it’s just me. The myth of the artist wears you down something awful.

Inspiration: Arousal of the mind to special unusual activity or creativity.

My Personal Mythology: Desire

When you’ve got paper, you can draw faces. When you’ve got leeches, you can draw blood.

Disclaimer: I started writing this post with an intention to rant about art practice and then it twisted itself into wild introspection. I still don’t know what the practice of art demands from me. I have stopped hoping I will ever know for longer than those moments when I seem to know what it wants. Then we all fall down.

* from The Cruel Practice of Art by George Bataille

I’m a Fraud

Yeah. That I am.

Update: I almost deleted this post today because it was too depressing. But I’ve decided to keep it as a reminder of how terrible things can get sometimes. However, on a brighter note, I don’t feel like a fraud anymore. Defeat generally makes you reconsider and gives you more to draw about. Also, I’d never ever let my students down. No matter what. 

This blog was meant to be about my art practice. I suppose my life is an integral part of that practice. Anyway, my life is in shambles but I try to channel it into my art-making practice. Sometimes, I just end up with shit.

Being depressed does give me an opportunity to make pointless drawings and to play out pointless fantasies (usually involving Andy Warhol endorsing my awesomeness) but it does make me feel like a fraud. There. I’ve said it. I feel like a fraud.

The past few years have been no walk in the park and I figured if I could make the stress go away, I’d come out clean and shiny with all my energy intact. However, that was another fantasy that didn’t quite work out. Sometimes, it feels like I’m working on a drawing which refuses to “resolve” to anything that I could put up. Gloom and doom. I remember a time which felt something like this and I never thought it would happen again. But unfortunately, it has and there seems to be nothing I can do about it except wait it out and see what happens and all that crap.

I have these beautiful young people who look up to me and that usually makes me feel wonderful and useful. Now I just feel like a complete fraud. How can I help them when I’m such a mess? If they knew how helpless I am, would they still care about what I say? Today, I made a wonderful child blurt out her story by insisting that I could understand. And I could. But have I resolved my stupid problems? How can I dare to be anything other than a failure? How can I dare to even try to help? I am a fraud.

But, I can be brave. I think I still remember what that is.

Another One Bites the Dust

I’ve been thinking about my progressive loss of innocence. This is a continuing process. Understanding it requires some thought and practice. It gives birth to cynicism and pessimism, the almost identical sisters that run along, hand in hand, spreading poison.

But enough of that whining and bitching. In the end, I’m just pissed off that the world didn’t turn out the way I expected. So now, the ranting can begin:

The art-world in Pakistan bites me in the ass every now and then. It can’t even be called the art-world really. It’s probably just an art-meteor – the kind that burns when it hits the atmosphere and some random debris might just plonk down in somebody’s backyard – or some gallery, in other words. You see a shooting star when it burns, and make a wish, which never comes true. So, it’s pretty lame. It involves a bunch of suits and aunties in galleries oohing and aahing and stuffing their faces with oily samosas. Yes, that’s a pretty good definition of the Pakistani art-world/meteor. Shiny but no cigar. And oily samosas (ofcourse).

A recent event disappointed me more than usual. It was an epic fail. An International Artist residency came to its drab conclusion and left quite a few of us fiesty types in the doldrums. I’m quite sure the intentions of the various organizers were honorable – though I’m sure they couldn’t have predicted the outcome: a complete “shartfest” as I’d like to call it.

Shart: (According the Urban Dictionary) 1. a small, unintended defecation that occurs when one relaxes the anal sphincter to fart (blend of “shit” and “fart”) and 2. gas followed by mass.

Now, I’ve had some minimal experience with International Artist Residencies before, but the outcome was mostly interesting and sometimes mindblowing. Or maybe not. My mind just refuses to blow. It is firmly held together with cynical armor. This particular event was the result of five weeks of – well, I don’t know what, really.

I had a bad feeling about it from the beginning. A friend and I were asked to be on board as working members. Ofcourse, I was interested. I’m always interested. We were also led to believe that we’d be on the selection panel for the applicants to this residency. However, the “selection” was a complete sham. We were shown the work of the already selected artists and then the rest of the “rabble” who were rejected for vague reasons. We selected some of our own anyway but nothing really became of that. I suppose there were valid reasons. Besides, not having had the experience in such things, our selections were probably not considered. Again, I’m sure that the organizers had good intentions. Or not enough time. Or something.

Being reasonable adults, we welcomed them to the best of our combined abilities. But I have a job so I couldn’t really spend much time with the artists. Neither could my friend (who is also my colleague). We had nice conversations. We laughed. We went for dinner. The usual. I even arranged some volunteers to help them and take them around. These volunteers were young people who had graduated in the last two years. I figured it would be a good experience for them. Everything was making sense. Or so I thought.

A few days ago, the students (mine included) visited this residency space to look at the artists at work and to speak to them about it. This was a disappointing experience as one artist – a young woman from Pakistan – was extremely rude during her “talk” – she began by yelling “shut up everyone” even though nobody was talking. Being reasonable adults (and horrified and insulted adults), we didn’t walk out and sat through an excruciatingly boring presentation of her excruciatingly trite and boring work. Some students questioned her which led to a very heated argument (which kept us awake) but she ended up talking rubbish. We heard that later she went somewhere to hide and cry. We weren’t too concerned, however. She insulted us all throughout her “talk” and didn’t answer most of our questions with anything that made any sense. We realized that an artist cannot be a moron and then expect to be respected. We learnt a very valuable lesson. We also lost some of our innocence right then since we learnt that:

  1. Morons are funded and promoted as artists of some value.
  2. Morons with excruciatingly ridiculous work are also promoted and funded.
  3. Morons who insult large groups of people are accepted into programs that are meant for artistic and cultural exchange.

Having learnt all that, we were then presented with a complete “shartfest” on the open day of this program/residency. The work was dull mostly with a few exceptions – mostly work by two of the artists “from abroad” – although the third one (also from an Islamic Republic like our own pure and holy land) created mildly offensive work. The work was mostly offensive because it was boring and we had all seen it many times before. We decided we like to look at things we haven’t seen before. However, we are gracious enough to accept that everything has been done before but we also expect that people show us a new and interesting was to look at what we have seen before.

We saw arrogance and lack of common sense. We saw a complete disregard for our feelings. We saw decadence and lack of respect. We also felt insulted and bored. Then we felt more insulted because this open day and residency space was quite far from civilization and we had made a great effort to be there.

Some of the important things we (my students, my colleagues and myself) learnt were mostly related to what it means to be an artist. Having an artistic license does not mean that:

  1. You turn into a moron overnight
  2. You can be rude whenever you like and insult people
  3. You can make anything and call it art and then refuse to answer people’s questions. When you put something up for people to see, answering their questions should be the next on your list of things to do.
  4. You become arrogant and strut about with a knowing look on your face. Then you’re just a pompous ass.
  5. You disrespect people’s beliefs like it’s your right.
  6. You expect people to love you and your work even though you’re a pompous ass and your work is dull.

Perhaps I am very harsh in my evaluation of this event. But pulling punches when something as dumb as this occurs only makes it worse. A student has been very accurate in her understanding of the whole mess. This is a very hopeful sign. This new wave of young people who will have artistic license will not be complete morons who are disrespectful and pompous. They will have common sense and the courage to be honest.

Just Shoot Me

Double your Fun/Shoot that Gun

 Happiness is a warm gun

– The Beatles

 “I think he showed me a cover of a magazine that said ‘Happiness Is a Warm Gun.’ It was a gun magazine. I just thought it was a fantastic, insane thing to say. A warm gun means you just shot something. Like heroin into your arm.” – John Lennon

What is it with guns? Heroin for John Lennon. But what is it with guns and women (or women with guns)?

Is this feminism?

Now you might be wondering: what is she on? I’m wondering about that myself. There has been a lot of discussion (with students, mostly – I have 5 young women in my final year Painting class) about feminism for the last year or so. Recently, somebody really got me thinking about it. What is feminism, really? A doctrine that advocates equal rights for women. Is that so? A movement aimed at equal rights for women. Equal rights, then. Female empowerment (the act of conferring legality, sanction or formal warrant/authority of the same etc.) and so on. Sure. I like that. Does that mean violence – physical or emotional? It’s something I have been thinking about a lot recently. Do I have a right on my body? I know I have a right on my mind – an intangible beast that warrants freedom. But my body exists in tangible form within this world of other tangible things. The physicality of it takes away many liberties. I fight all kinds of imprisonment but my body is never free. Do I have a right to have a body? That is a question I have been asking for years.

I don’t like being categorized as a feminist. I don’t like being categorized period. But I am inclined towards certain doctrines within this category. Infact, I lean a lot towards feminism. But sometimes, I don’t care (as usual) about anything at all and I crawl into my bed and hide.

It seems I only have questions these days. Recently, I was interviewed by a student at IVS for her dissertation. She had all kinds of questions that I barely had answers for. My responses are barely coherent in my opinion:

Could you briefly describe your practice?

In answer to this question, perhaps you could focus on my statement on my website. It has been consistent for many years (though, I did add to it):

Her work began as an exploration of the randomness of nature; at times, rendering our bodies dysfunctional and therefore vulnerable – and yet paradoxically evoking the brute strength of our essentially animalistic, almost obsessive need for survival. She had hoped that it would then perhaps be possible to demystify love, desire and other such abstractions as functional necessities.

At the same time, it reflected an attempt to understand issues of identity and femininity in this environment. She had hoped to discover some element of truth from experiences and from nature itself. However, with time, it focused more on the raw and sometimes humorous nature of emotions and narratives representing her experiences. The process is ongoing, and from needing to understand the nature of things, she started looking for narratives and had encountered a need to look beyond pretensions, creating characters, self-portraits and stories that best represent situations.

I’m afraid I cannot be brief in this matter. It is indeed, very difficult to define any practice which is mostly a pursuit. The best I can say is that even now, I am very curious about the body and how it can represent what is felt or internalized from the outside. 

What would you say the aim of your art practice is?

Again, my practice is a pursuit born out of curiosity. I am curious about the human soul. Mostly, I am curious about my own (human) soul. Perhaps also, about the female soul (coincidentally, I am female so I don’t have a choice in the matter of choosing the gender for my soul. Many would argue that the soul need not be of any gender but mine, I feel, is determinedly female). This pursuit is not sentimental but almost clinical. I have been looking for the soul in the body.

Your question is a hard one. What is the aim of my practice besides my own curiosity? I believe, I might be creating coded pictures of what my soul looks like which is a bizarre, but valid pursuit. If I needed to see my soul with my own eyes, I would make a picture of it.

How do you understand the term feminism? What does being feminist mean to you?

I am still unclear on how to really understand feminism. Looking beyond the female archetypes (Maiden, Mother, Crone, Queen etc.) and accepting the fact of woman would be feminism to me. What if every stereotype all rolled up in one woman is truly a fact? What if that many-woman is the norm? What if she is completely acceptable with every aspect of her revealed without shame or guilt? These are important questions to me.

Would you call yourself feminist?

I would call myself female. Does that make me a feminist?

Is your work, in any way, a reaction to the society you live in? How?

Yes I believe it is. After all, I do exist in the society I live in. I also like to believe I am an active member of the society I live in. I perform my social duty by teaching what I know. However, I have often felt unwanted or unacceptable on many occasions in my life within this society. It could have been from something as silly as being told that ladies cannot smoke in the park outside Quaid-e-Azam’s Mausoleum or something as serious as being fondled on the street.

I wouldn’t say my work is a direct reaction to the society I live in. But it is a reaction or based on situations within the social structure – masked and blatant sexuality and gender politics. Wearing my soul on my sleeve, I live and love in this world. How could I deny that the society has no effect on my work? Essentially, every situation that has pushed me to make pictures has come from reactions to situations – many of them directly linked to the social structure.

Have you ever come across “anti-woman” sentiment throughout your practice?

Personally, I come across “anti-woman” sentiment almost every single day. A rude stare from a taxi driver is about as “anti-woman” as somebody telling me women cannot smoke (though they have lips, a mouth and lungs they want to destroy as much as any man). I feel people drive me to want to prove it’s alright to be a woman with all her woman-ness.

How important do you think it is to address issues via your work? If yes, then how do you do that?

It must be important if it’s in my work. Any issue that cannot be resolved by words, shows up in pictures, I believe. I suppose the issues that concern me show up naturally in my work.

In 1983, a group of fifteen women artists signed a Feminist Manifesto in Lahore in order to protect and elevate the role of women in society. Do you think there is a need for this kind of activist element in the society of today?

I feel the artist community is too scattered for anything like that to ever happen again. Also, there is a greater sense of female empowerment – in those days, things were different. But yes, if such activism does occur, it would make life more interesting and meaningful. Women artists do what they can in their work. I’m not sure if anyone would want to lean too far into activism. The capitalist structure of everything has changed the way people look at art – it’s for sale. Ideas are for sale. I think feminist art is also for sale. That changes the dynamics of everything. But perhaps, I’m just being cynical here. In all honesty, I’m not sure.

Do you think artists can actually make a difference to the status of women in Pakistan? If so, how?

I think women can make a difference to the status of women in Pakistan. They need not be artists at all. As artists, we try to bring out the issues that concern us because we can’t help it mostly. Some people are more focused on intentionally addressing certain issues. I feel that artists do not have the kind of power needed to actually make a difference with just their art-work because it is not as accessible as perhaps television. But artists can be involved in other activities like education and outreach projects and actually bring the important issues into the light.

Do you think contemporary female artists are different in their approach toward feminism? In your opinion, is it a successful approach?

I believe they are. I can’t say for sure if it’s successful or not. I think it will take a while to actually see what results they achieve from their work. If contemporary art work is a critique on society (which I believe it is mostly) then at least we have a record of how things are right now. In the future, when people look back, they will have something to look at. Sometimes, that is all you need to bring a change (if a change is indeed what we are looking for).

The female form and the female nude occur frequently in your work. What intent is behind that?

If I speak entirely from my own experience, then I must speak in my own voice. Since I am a woman, the female body best represents what I’m doing/thinking/feeling. This is my premise. As for my intent – well, everything isn’t intentional. Sometimes, I believe I use the female form and the female nude from habit. But mostly, it is intentional.

I do not expose the body (male or female) because of its aesthetic value. That is something I am quite certain of. I barely ever make any hair on human bodies either. I think it is the best way I can say what I really mean.

I don’t know what I’m on these days. I find myself isolated in my introspection. It’s time to get back to aunties, maybe.