Diaspora artists - II

Suljuk Mustansar Tarar offers an overview of the role and work of Pakistani artists based around the world

Diaspora artists - II
Khadim Ali is a relatively younger artist, though he is a big name in contemporary miniature, and has been gaining international fame for some time now. He recently moved to Australia. Coming from a Hazara background, Ali has used his Persianate, Afghan and Pakistani roots to create a rich and unique vocabulary for his work. It is also inspired by his experiences and interest in Persian poetry and legend.

Another young artist, Rubaba Haider, is pursuing studies in criminology law and continues her miniature practice alongside that. She uses the image of torn fabrics to convey her personal experiences of relocation. Haider’s colour scheme has changed to greys and whites as she undertakes education in criminal law – which has brought a new view of life to her art practice.

Moving to Europe, Fatima Zahra Hassan is a UK-based academic and practitioner of miniature. Hassan is an expert on traditional miniature methods, materials and technique. She was amongst the early graduates from NCA’s miniature department and remains loyal to that traditional practice. This is partly because of her teachers at NCA and the Royal College of Arts and also owed to the timing of her move to the UK in the early 1990’s, just after the end of the Cold War. As a result, Hassan says her work “focus on themes and elements which were grounded in my country of origin. I had a deep interest in metaphysics and the poetry and literature of South Asia and the Middle East ... and its universal message of peace and benevolence.” These days Hassan, as part of her postdoctoral work in the University of Cambridge’s Shahnama Project, is working on a ‘touch-interactive trans-media storytelling concept’ and also holography.

'Green Coat in Wilderness' - Fatima Zahra Hassan

Tazeen Qayyum and Fasial Anwar are visual artists based in Toronto, Canada. They are a couple who graduated from Lahore’s NCA. Qayyum is a miniature graduate and Faisal is a designer. Both have their individual trajectory in terms of their practice.

Qayyum’s work is mainly conceptually driven. It is “socially engaging and critically examines the relationships between art and observation” in her lived experience. Prior to moving to Canada, her work revolved around “personal narratives” and “social commentary on women’s issues and struggles.” Upon arrival in Canada, Qayyum explains that her work now “draws on complex issues of belonging and displacement within a sociopolitical and religious context. My art has now become a way for me to navigate my identity and beliefs living in the diaspora.”

'Infiltration' by Tazeen Qayyum

In a work titled ‘Our Bodies Our Gardens’ Qayyum “examined the challenges and everyday struggle of a universal woman” and the feeling that “the scale and location may differ yet the struggle is familiar.”

The common household pest, the much detested cockroach, is a character in Qayyum’s iconography. For her it reflects the worthlessness of human life in a world of violence and the resilience to survive – attributable to the lowly cockroach. It evolves into a geometric pattern in many of Qayyum’s works and for the artist it is a symbol. She notes: “I take pleasure in combining beauty with the grotesque and discomfort with humour.” Qayyum has used drawing, installation, sculpture, video and performances in her practice – including her performance at the Karachi Biennale in which she sits on the floor and does calligraphy in circular patterns.

Faisal Anwar is originally a graphic designer and his artistic career as a visual artist in new media and technology has evolved whilst living abroad. He began with studies and residences including a project at the CFC media lab on “kinetic animation for kids.” His interest in time zones, architectural spaces and the narratives surrounding them has resulted in some fairly interesting projects. Anwar says that “today we live in an environment where our cities talk in data. We are recording and editing our present and documenting history in real-time.” This keenly interests him and is, as such, reflected in his work.

'Invisible threads are the strongest ties (Nietzsche) I' - Rubaba Haider - Gouache on wasli paper - 35 x 37 cm - 2014

'World's End Series I' - Fatima Zahra Hassan

Anwar believes that his themes and concerns are global and fluid but can be adapted to any city. In his recent project for the Karachi Biennale titled ‘I See my Streets: Karachi,’ he has provided a “new visual metaphor for thinking about the city, through the eyes of its young inhabitants.”

The writer can be reached at smt2104@caa.columbia.edu