Humera Ghaznavi - Reminiscence of A Journey

  • 10 Mar - 16 Mar, 2018
  • Attiya Abbass
  • Interview

The woman sitting across me is an epitome of finesse. Dressed in pearly white, she emanates an almost ethereal glow. Someone once told me when you ever meet an artist, have a good look at their hands. The hands tell a much fuller story than the work of an artist itself. It is the first tool through which they manoeuvre their inner mastery on the canvas. Her delicate hands, painted with red nail colour, move with grace as she talks, as if drawing objects in the air.

Humera Ghaznavi is hailed as one of the most respected artists in the country and has a plethora of fine work to her credit. Based in Islamabad, the artist recently visited Karachi to exhibit her paintings at the Full Circle Gallery. Those who had the privilege of viewing different mediums of her fine work on display know how exquisite they were in nature. During her short visit, I managed to get hold of the famed artist and secured a time slot for an interview.

“I have a BFA degree,” Humera says, starting the conversation. “I was doing my Masters from University of Punjab when I was called back by my mother who wanted her daughters to get married at the earliest, since she was very unwell. Hence, I got married and could not complete my Masters,” she reveals. But that could not keep her away from making her dream come true. Married to a doctor, Humera started her promising career as an artist while being a housewife.

As we sip tea together, I begin to delve into Humera’s journey. What she has gone through in life and what aspects of her life has served as motivation to be a wonderful artist that she is today.

“I am a very well-travelled person. My father worked in the aviation; a job that had us moving every two years. From the virgin lands of Gilgit, Chittagong, to Skardu and more; I got to see a lot of Pakistan at a very young age,” she smiles wistfully as she continues. “I have seen the majestic virgin lands. I have seen Gilgit, as it was 50 years back. The Gilgit you see today is not the same; it’s much commercialised and in a way, is robbed of its young unadulterated beauty. During our extensive travels, I got to study every type of nature in its awe-inspiring wholesome beauty.”

So, at what age did the artist in her stretch its wings? “I was born as an artist. I was about seven or younger when my mom would give me the takhti (slate) to practice calligraphy. But I used to end up drawing sceneries only to make my mother angry who would scold me at the end,” she reminisces, adding, “I believe the artistry was already blooming inside me at that time, or else I would just have practiced calligraphy and not turned out to be an artist. Very soon, my family realised that I was not interested in what they had planned for me. I broke the rules,” she says with a spark in her eyes.

“And look at the places God has taken me to! For the longest time I got to experience the beauty of Concordia, Karakoram. I had stunning panoramic views of peak K2, Nanga Parbat from my room’s window. I believe some of its vast beauty has entered my heart. It was in my veranda where I saw the young of murg-e-zareen open their eyes for the first time to the world. I have seen markhors marching up mountains. These are rare aspects of beauty that people do not usually get to see and I feel privileged to have experienced them. The area of Concordia is very sacred from the point of Hinduism as well. I was introduced to it at a very young age.”

Humera recently showed at the exhibition, titled Mantiq ut Tayr - Reminiscence of A Journey. A book of collection of verses by the same name has been written by the great Farid-ud-Din Attar. I ask Humera if she has taken inspiration from the verses of the Persian poet.

“No, I want to make it clear that it wasn’t an inspiration. I am on a very definitive spiritual path as well, which is a parallel story. If one has studied the basics of Mantiq ut Tayr, it is a spiritual and symbolic journey which is encompassed in seven valleys. It is a symbolic message a poet or a spiritualist is telling the people. Through symbolics, a person gives an account of how he manages to fly to the highest mountains by highest points, when you are in the spiritual journey given by God. And you are given the power to rule the water, earth and more. The work that I am doing is symbolically telling me on which stages I am, how I am opening these portals for the rest of the people to get serenity within them, and be better human beings. Farid-ud-Din Attar capsulated the essence of it in the words and I did it in colour,” she says, clearing the misconception.

It was Humera’s exhibition in Karachi that brought her to the bustling city. I ask her if there are any more projects waiting for her back home in Islamabad.

“I am on that stage in life when no one is waiting for me. I am loved by nobody. I love nobody. There comes a stage in life where you stop craving, stop wanting things, you don't have any desires. I am in that heightened and lightened Sufi stage. I am an empty vessel now,” she shares while picking her words very carefully.

But how a person, who is capable of creating such exquisite art, can be empty from inside? I argue to which she replies with a touch of sufism and philosophy in her tone, “You need to be empty in order to receive something, merey bachay. If you are filled with your desires, how will you get what God has bestowed upon you.”

Humera argues that art does have a lot of value but it does not have a price. “People don’t understand that artists too work for a living. They too have a family to feed. I get this a lot; you have so much of your work, why don’t you give it to us. They want to get it for free. People don’t understand that when a specific piece of our art is going, it’s not just a canvas, it’s a whole constellation of thoughts, and it’s a part of me that is going to be hanged on your wall. I got a phone call from a person the other day, and they were like, ‘When can I have your painting?’ I asked, if he was rich? And then there was no answer.”