Feminism In Pakistani Art (by VEERA RUSTOMJI)
When artistic practice is heard to be intermingled with feminism, a certain percentage of viewers will tend to reel backwards or lose interest. This is probably because feminist art has been associated with radicalism and disputes over inequality. What many people fail to realise is that art has a rather transformational effect on movements and when we articulate Pakistani artists who are concerned with themes related to women, we can understand the true message of their work. Proving their work to be creative yet sensitive, the group of artists exhibiting their paintings at the Alliance Francaise for the International Women's Day Art Exhibition portrayed diverse work which mainly addressed the role of women subtly.
The 18 female artists were concerned with the symbolism and decoding of the complexities women are innately faced with. The exhibition showcased a plethora of styles, techniques and mediums which successfully contributed to the perceptions of women. Keeping in mind that some of the work displayed did not by any immediate means have relations with feminism, such as Mona Naqsh's still lives, yet the artists themselves are a major contribution to alleviating the perception of Pakistani women internationally. Riffat Alvi's abstract representation of civilisation and humanity was a personal favourite amongst the crowd. Her three-dimensional work of terracotta pieces is a perfect example of subtle suggestion of the importance of women. While her work thematically synthesises elements such as lost culture, soul searching and the ambiguity of life, the pieces do however represent feminity because the projecting cut pieces of terracotta resemble the clay and pottery art Pakistani women are well versed in. The fragmentation of the pieces and the visual eclectic taste of Riffat Alvi made her pieces stand-out.
Artists like Mehar Afroz and Durriya Kazi, who have made their work signature hallmarks within the art circles, are some of the go to goddesses when it comes to drawing and proportion. Mehar Afroz's depictions in her translucent drawings and patterns reflect upon' broadening understanding' and ridding oneself of the earthly distractions. Her drawings not only showed intensive skill but empathic visual sense. Zarah David's work similarly pronounced a personal empathy and understanding of the subject. Her cadmium reds and deep hues ablaze on the canvas signaled intense involvement on the artist's behalf. While her work does not communicate or invite romantic impressions of women, or even humanity, her rich palette of colours give her work a rhythmic vitality and pictorial force.
Women such as Hajra Mansoor, Durriya Kazi, Mehar Afroz and Zarah David have embodied their lives with a priority to teach and assist budding artists and students. Years of dedication have established them as a never ending replenishing source of inspiration for female artists in Pakistan. Whether it is contemporary and curious sculptures, or intimate and romantic modern miniatures, their work may not be a regular contribution to feminist art, but their names continue to dominate the artist circles within Pakistan.
Laiba Baig and Shazia Qaiser displayed modern takes on depictions of women, describing women as strong, confident yet elegant. Inspired by beauty, individualism and changing eras, artists such as the above mentioned argue that women can have and be it all. Bold oil colours and exaggerated features - Laila Baig's work immediately contrasts with the delicate ephemeral figures of the Irani women in Shazia Qaiser's water colours; however the analogy of comparing their work can be justified by their themes and the relevance of their concerns.
Marium Agha's statement of her exhibited work, titled 'Karachi How I Love You Thee' was particularly intuitive and very much relevant for all the patriotic artists within us.
"The drawing made by Karachi on those who reside in it is lacking the completion until it invites the seeing in relation to the drawing made. The one, who draws, does so to make something visible to others but also accompany something invisible to its destination. Such is the relation of an artist, the viewer with its home; the many stories of the relationship between the proverbial and individualistic, the giver and taker and the experience that lies in unfolding the familiarity, stretching boundaries and creating spaces to entitle Karachi as Apna Karachi."
This statement represents a very solid identity yet connects with anyone, who is not an artist nor a Karachite or a Pakistani, as it describes how a land becomes your own. It is interesting to note that the artists probably did not intend on this theme to touch upon feminism but as this article focuses on the matter, many viewers found her work indicating how women have given Karachi so much and have helped the city experience new levels of development.
Internationally, Women's Day continues to make new achievements and it was very much enjoyed by Karachi to see this day being celebrated through art. As I write this a famous feminist artist, Yoko Ono's line comes to my mind, she said "To denigrate us (women) or to abuse us or to sweep us under the rug is not beneficial for the society itself." She said the combination of paradoxes, blending of styles, values, distortions and eloquence created a strangely harmonious exhibition. Viewing work by generations of women artists, and especially marveling at the younger lot was a great encouragement for young art students. Whether it was the domesticated role women are associated with which bothered the artists or simply intrigued them, symbolism feminist art was seen in it's true essence at the exhibition. For most of the part, observers themselves interpreted the work and made connections with the role of women because of the special occasion.
While a handful of artists have not been mentioned in detail in this article, their work however must not be viewed as irrelevant. The volume of colour and creativity, plus the uninhibited talent and execution of the paintings communicated how supportive and active women in Pakistan art circles are.