Tag Archives: art practice

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.

Lunch

The importance of making a good lunch can pretty much decide how wonderful an artist really is. So, you see it’s quite simple. Maybe I should work on my culinary skills before I even attempt to produce any art-work. Maybe I should give up on art-work altogether, and just cook lunches.

He made great lunches and target paintings

His paintings were cool, disengaged and impersonal. Sometimes, I wish I could be cool, disengaged and impersonal without guilt. Damn those lunches.

Sharam aur Haya: Capitalizing on Offences

Guilt:

  1. The state of having committed an offense
  2. Remorse caused by feeling responsible for some offense

I have been interested in guilt for a long time. I think most people are. We are not guiltless. I refuse to believe that anyone can completely let go of guilt. Shame is another thing altogether. But guilt and shame do go hand in hand.

Beyond the semantics, however, I have been considering guilt. I am guilty of the offence of numbness. I am guilty of the offence of bystander’s apathy. I am guilty of the offence of airing my opinion but then forgetting about it and sleeping in my warm, comfortable bed and going to work in the morning (to air my opinion some more) and so on. Such is my guilt.

Me: smiling in the face of adversity - or: completely not giving a shit

What can one woman do? I am a woman without shame for a lot of people. They see me and they see no shame. But what do they know? The burden of my guilt and my helplessness is my own to bear – and so is my shame.

I have lofty justifications for what I do. I cannot claim to be pompous and self-satisfied but I am reasonably (and unreasonably) certain about all the choices I have made. Yet, I cannot explain my weariness. Why am I so tired? I don’t even know what to feel. Perhaps, the world is beyond my understanding afterall. I spent so many years trying to be aware and conscientious and I learnt compassion somewhere along the way. This fatigue is inexplicable. Everything that happens isn’t my fault!

Sometimes I feel compelled to make work about anything that would make a difference. But my heart gives up. I feel mildly retarded for being so passive in a world that is crazy. Should I have to?

Here I am, with so many questions. And tired. So tired.

The God of Love

consuming assumptions

why am i still apologizing?
guilt: the state of having committed an offense; remorse caused by feeling responsible for some offence
 
inhaling poison day and night. talking non stop. i watched the sun go down behind the tall tall monsters today. the moon is directly overhead here sometimes. how strange. while i spoke of feudals and pawns, i watched the sun, orange and gold in my peripheral vision. can one go blind peripherally? what do they think of me? do they wonder as i wonder? what do they see?
 
soon i will go back to start and collect 200 and things will try to be the same. wonder where they all are.
 
sometimes i remember. sometimes i have to remember.

 

April 2007 (I think). That was a long time ago but does that even matter?

Time is strange. In my art-practice (silly as that sounds) I have tried to ignore time altogether. I remember spending a lot of time bullshitting about my own ideas of the present not being possible at all. Now that I look back, it all seems rather silly. But that could just be my usual self-deprecation talking. I’m always looking back, belittling myself in hopes of achieving some twisted understanding of myself in humility. But that too, is bullshit. I’m just looking for something.

I remember when I was looking for freedom. And it was sweet (like revenge -bittersweet):

March 14, 2007

yuengling

your hand in mine. such a perfect day. i should cut my hand off. tyranny and cruelty are imagined violations. sometimes i wish i could turn it back and turn it around. but it is too late. i just didn’t understand. in this amber haze, i can only sigh and relent. repent. look back turn back. but nothing. no voice no hand.
it’s time. to give it up. to let it go. i let it go. so there.
who are you when i’m not watching? it’s too late, too late now. maybe that’s why my story brought me here. to move. movement like motions. sensations of sensations. moments of moments.
today on the train i thought about spaces. i make spaces. white ones. purple ones. on my body. my body unraveled with desire of things past. the piano plays. people dance sometimes across my mind. such beautiful landscapes. crescendo. rain and snow. what do you see now? did you even see me at all?
not really. i couldn’t even see myself. here in these big wide open spaces i see myself. flying in a red biplane with two yellow dots. the thing of dreams. the red biplane of my dreams. you sent me a picture of it once. where did you find that picture? where did it come from? what did you want from me?
questions that will never be answered.
the piano plays on.
outside the orange globes and the rain go hand in hand. your hand in mine. our hands.
turn it around and you’ll see the mark you made. nothing takes it away. not one thing. not anything. i can stay here for as long as i want and wish it all away. sometimes in my dreams nothing changed. and maybe that is frightening. i never knew who you were. it was all in my head. who were you? who are you?
now i am myself.

 

And now… What concerns me now is so different. But is it? Can one change an approach completely? Sometimes I remember myself as somebody else. Sometimes I remember being me. The complete fantasy of memory is a wonderful past-time. Spinning tales round and round. Who am I? Am I the same that I was? Will I ever be anyone other than me?

The constants are something to consider here. The fantasy of memory is elusive and dangerously seductive. Like the game of chinese-whisper, facts turn into fiction. The fiction of memory, therefore, becomes a cornerstone or even, a point of origin for nostalgia.

I am concerned about nostalgia these days. If I look back, who do I see? Where do my ideas about myself/the world come from? Is truth important? Can fiction create further realities/fictional realities?

das Verstehen vs. das verstand

(understanding as a general concept and understanding as a faculty of the human mind)

 In trying to understand Kant and his rant, I have seriously started to consider transcendentalism and how it might be behind some of my beliefs. I was watching “Little Women” (I read the book eons ago but recently found the 1994 film) and I noticed the emphasis on transcendentalist thought. It is hardly a mystery, considering the author of the book had transcendentalist parents (I found that bit of information on the internet).

What interests me the most is the notion of an ideal spiritual state that “transcends” the physical and empirical and can only be realized through the individual’s intuition. This would make intuition more important than intellect. There are some things I know before experience. Then there are things I know after. I sometimes find myself relying purely on intuition and not experience. Experience comes later and perhaps reinforces whatever it is I just happen to know. Perhaps I am trying to force this understanding into the idea of transcendentalism.

I found myself in a situation last week when I had to “justify” my (much criticized) teaching methods. I used the word intuition a lot and then realized that as usual I could not articulate my intentions as well as I had conceived them. It was then I realized that my new mission is to completely understand what exactly I am doing (quite successfully, I might add but which could just be a fluke) so I can add to it and make it better or so to speak. Thus, on this brave quest I am compelled to read as much as I can to discover the true nature of my intentions.

I had read somewhere that this is the age of cynicism and nihilism. Or maybe even that is obsolete now. I just know that I must have a purpose or I cannot justify the act of living to myself. And so, here I am trying to understand understanding.

Articulation is important. It drives the vultures away like a hunting rifle.

Coming back to the event that triggered this brave venture into my very soul: my critic demanded an explanation for my methods. What exactly is my method? I believe in guiding a student to her/his own mind and experience. But before that I believe in guiding a student to the core of her/his being. What is being? Is it a metaphysical substance? A feeling? An intuitive realm where all knowledge resides? I believe in a spiritual mind – a mind that is capable of knowing all there is to know.

Next, I feel the true path to this spiritual mind comes from self knowledge. And then the knowledge of the world follows. How experience fits into this still eludes me somewhat. I can almost put words to it. There is some knowledge beyond experience and experience follows?

And as far as guidance is concerned, there are tricks. Magic tricks. The carrot and the stick, uncomfortable questions on beliefs, love and more love. How can any form of guidance exist without compassion? Without love for the human race (sentimental, I know) how can anyone teach at all?

My practice involves more than making art-work. It involves teaching and guiding towards a spiritual realm beyond the confines of organized religion and its doctrines. It involves “transformation” (a term given to me by a former teacher) of the human condition/experience. It then becomes a worthwhile practice. I am still developing my own sense of morality and integrity. This excludes religion and includes compassion and common sense.

I am still nervous. Just a few more hours to go and then I will be at the hospital. I haven’t slept a wink.