The Birth of an Amulet

5 Mar

The animals sacrificed at the Muslim celebration of Eid-ul-Azha (based on the  Abrahamic tradition) will serve as our ride to heaven, post death. Thus went the explanation my parents gave to rest my discomforts at the slaughter of animals over Eid Festivities.

But what about when we are alive? After all, death is a distant possibility.

When we are alive or probably during our lifetime, we will quite possibly see science, particularly the field of biotechnology help produce the hybrid animals I imagined as a child: Winged goats, camels, cows (the wings enabled them to fly me to heaven).

Bear with me from here on, as most of this is imagined and yet to happen. Though it is the future. These will deserve our admiration simply for existing. In essence what we are actually admiring is the accomplishments of science. Pigs with soft meat, goats with wings. Pretty much the same thing. The potential of science, biotechnology in particular, is boundless; be it crop yield or unique hybrid species that offer the potential of replacing religion as a solution to human woes, indicating an era where human intervention/invention trumps nature. My practice currently references the fact that ideas that were mere fantasy a few years back may well become a reality in the near future.

My latest piece for Bahishti Cultures – a body of work that came into being as a tongue-in-cheek response to my research on (the unhindered deployment of) biotechnology to use and abuse nature and animals to satiate human consumption and insecurities – elevates the realm of biotechnology to the level of religion, creating deities out of hybrid animals. This new piece titled The Making of An Amulet follows a reductive approach. Much like Islamic amulets reduce all Quranic/non-Quranic verses on protection into a square piece of paper stuffed and sewn into a leather case to be worn around the neck – I have also managed to make the perfect Amulet derived from the accomplishments of biotechnology, that will in time replace religion and demand subservience.

Step 1.
It starts with the chimera – a goat with wings to fly, and claws to grab, and hooves to walk.  A Commendable Creation.
Step 1

Step 2.

Simplify it a bit. remove the goat head, keep the (added) features i.e wings, claws, hooves and tail.

IMG_0140 copy.jpgStep 3.
Simplify Further. Keep the best feature. Wear it around your neck. It will be your saviour.

Step 4.
Recognition. Is it even an amulet in contemporary muslim practice if not bound in leather to be worn around the neck?

IMG_0143 copy.jpg

The amulets started off as trinkets/jewellery to be worn around the neck for purposes of faith and belief in Science the Saviour. However, for now they have found a new home, resting in cork, flying in the sky.

step 1- low res


Celestial v/s Cerebral : work-in-progress

29 Apr


I have been sitting on an idea for over a month now, contemplating this blogpost and happily, I am finally getting around to it. In self defence, I must add  that since I have yet to execute the idea, a months procrastination is not too bad, and it’s still not too late. More than anything else, this post is an archive of my thoughts and ideas, marking the date and year. And of course, it helps iron out the creases in my concept.

Divine, Human | Technology, Intervention
Intervenchnology –  Working Title.

This is how it started. At night, many nights ago, somewhere in my brain there were literal biological sparks, where synapses met and metaphorical dots were connected.With the biology explained and out of the way, I am now going to focus on the emotional/theoretical. I feel like my work is taking an automatic U-turn to biotechnology though in a spirited and sprightly manner, that is not at all depressing or cumbersome. And doing so, completely of it’s own accord, perhaps subconsciously, but it is no way planned or structured by my brain.

Religion/ religious belief and practice has been at the heart of my practice since 2009. And in some ways, I have been working in continuum, on the same body of work, despite the explicit changes in language and expression.
To elucidate the return to biotechnology; the winged-animals in my paintings are a visual representation that symbolise the imagination of my 5-10 year old mind, based on mythical stories and religious ideology imparted upon me as a child, however, my chimerical creatures could very well be conceived and created by human intervention in nature, propelled by the science of biotechnology, as is exemplified by Alba ,the glow-in-dark rabbit, the first of many such experiments and creations in art and science alike.

Undoubtedly deserved, there is a a lot of credibility advocated to human ability and biological intervention in nature. It is in fact, so incredible so as to make it almost venerable. Bearing this in mind, I embark on my latest piece for this oeuvre.

The making of an Amulet, is a three-part wearable piece of art that represents our faith in science. For this piece, I have re-appropriated conviction scribbled on paper and worn for protection by believers i.e. a Ta’aviz or Amulet. However, I have replaced the (occassionally divine) scribbles with scientific struggles, accomplishments and possibilities, elements embodied within my chimerical animals. Borrowing from the idea of an amulet or ta’awiz , this represents our faith in human ability and scientific interference as opposed to Nature and a Divine plan.




[In case, Alba is a mystery, here’s a link to a brief intro. ]


Where the Shadows are so Deep

11 Mar

Its a good day to have your article be the cover slideshow on an E-magazine!

Here’s a link to my review of Where The Shadows are so Deep, Imran Qureshi’s first major body of work in London, commissioned by the Barbican Centre.

“Not to say that the paintings in Where the Shadows Are so Deep are not beautiful – they most certainly are – but there is a fluidity in every piece that transcends the genre; executed in a language that has more in common with drawing than with the traditional technique of miniature painting.” – See more at:

A Timid Little Foray

25 Feb

Making Colliature: An Interdisciplinary process

As an artist, every time I am asked to label my art or identify the main media in my practice on a form, my first instinct is to write ‘interdisciplinary’ then the wheels in my brain kick in, I overthink and backspace my way to replace my first response with  ‘multi-disciplinary’.

Whats the difference? you ask. Very slight, but once you know it, it bores a whole in your understanding of your own practice. Multi-disciplinary art implies an artist uses a variety of media in their practice. This could range from painting, drawing, printmaking, performance to video, sound installations and whatever else you may like. And that is exactly how I work. Exploring one media, then another, then another and so on. This helps me focus, as each new media presents a new challenge. (Of course, concept also contributes to the medium chosen.)

Then there is Interdisciplinary Art. This is uber cool – a whole new level of creative. Because, this is where the artist takes two different media and marries them so that a chimera is born. Or a whole new genre, particular to the artists practice, is birthed. Simply put, using the principals of one media and applying them to the another to make something new, constitutes Interdisciplinary Art practice.

Now, I understand that Art exudes a cool, lack of rules stance on life, but despite that, Art does not equal anarchy. To elucidate, even tough art defies boundaries, definition and rules, it still manages to retain them. Conspicuously, it’s an oxymoron. Hence, I quote my A levels art teacher, ‘you have to know the rules, to break them’.
Suffice is to say that even though Multi-disciplinary, Interdisciplinary, Conceptual are just titles, they are quite significant in the world of creativity.

Completely by accident, Interdisciplinary is the turn my work has taken.  For a number of practical and nostalgic reasons, I returned to painting miniatures in 2014. After painting three consecutive pieces,  I took a creative break in the form of collage, taking the series forward with this relatively faster medium. It being my first ever collage, I loved the freedom and skill the medium demanded. It is possible to achieve a feel similar to collage digitally, but being the hands-on maker that I am, I preferred paper and exacto and  immersed myself in the process of collage-making, consequently fuelling a potential love affair.

The above explains how I started prancing between miniature painting and collage, however I am unable to pinpoint the moment I took on the principles and methodology of miniature painting and applied it to collage. As I type here, I am working on a piece – a collage – executed with the principles of miniature painting, employing paint application, burnishing, borders, hashia, gidwal, thinking 4D and so on and so forth.

As I move towards resolving this piece, I feel like I can finally claim myself within the genre of interdisciplinary art. However, no doubt, in the massive sphere of interdisciplinary , this is a small and timid step, but its a start, an exciting and fun start.
Here’s hoping it’s only a matter of time before this foray, this timid little step transforms into big foot.

Residency Ready

6 Feb

This poor blog has been lying dormant for way too long. I suppose its time to liven up this space. So here goes, an update on my practice, fresh from my newly acquired position as Artist in Residence at the Fitzrovia Community Centre, in Central London’s West End.

As I resume work after almost eight months, I am ecstatic and disoriented simultaneously. But despite that, a residency close to home is perfect for my current situation, where I can run back and forth between home (read baby) and the studio. Luckily, so far there has been no need for it, but it is a soothing idea, should the need arise. And the Centre is most accommodating. Not only is my studio time flexible, they have also offered starting a créche of sorts!! For an artist? Who has ever done that before? Consider it a challenge and please tell me if you have heard of such a phenomenon for a practicing artist.

Now, coming back to work and the disoriented part of my brain. I went in with all my materials and stuff before the first day just so I was settled in when time came to make work. However, materials makes NOT inspiration strike.

Sitting there, as per my plan, I just stared… mostly into space, and occasionally at some unfinished pieces I wanted to complete. These unfinished pieces, in the three weeks, since the open-ended residency has started, have become the core of my practice.

These are miniature paintings that I began back in 2008, and I had left them to die a slow painful death in a drawer back home in Pakistan. When I went back this time around, while searching for something (possibly) useless -must be useless because I cant remember what it is now – I stumbled upon these. I brought them back to London with me, just to fill space and time while materialising the many ideas I have had in the period that I have not been very productive, as an artist, that is. I am still a productive mother every day.

As I add a new emblem, mark, or idea to these old vasli’s I realise how pertinent they are to where I stand today. These pieces are a culmination of how my perspective has changed, experiences internalised, knowledge processed and visual language evolved. At some point, these pieces will help my practice come full circle.

And once I am there, its on to new visuals happily brewing in my head..Onwards and Upwards to complete this new body of miniature paintings and collage.


‘Bahishti Fauj, My miniature painting on the residency advertisement outside the Centre.

Closing in…

14 Dec

Exhibition Ready Cont/-..

I am done making checklists, its time for some real action.
I have my work and two other artists work lying in my foyer, its a matter of time now before installation begins! The cabs booked and by this time tomorrow the works will be in the gallery.

So far two drafts of invitations have been made.
The first one was vetoed. The second one has been edited, fixed, circulated and distributed.
Even though the first didn’t work I was quite fond of it. Thus I have decided to put up here.

First draft, Invite, Rough Around the Edges

First draft, Invite, Rough Around the Edges

With the invitations and catalogues taken care of, its CRUNCH TIME!

Exhibiton Ready

10 Dec
Theme of exhibition
press release
time-table / Artist deadlines


And the list goes on – its endless! I feel like I am adding and checking a new thing to my checklist every so often –  All part and parcel of curating. Don’t get me wrong, I love organizing and making checklists but curating takes organizing to a whole new level! I labour on with bated breath looking forward to 19th December 2013!

Even though I have curated before, this is the very first time I am going solo as a curator. Needless to add, I am enjoying it immensely. This show is particularly special because it reflects my personal practice.

Titled Rough Around the Edges the show celebrates the act of making in contemporary art. During my MA, more often than not I was both appreciated and criticized for being a ‘maker’. That is to say I like to use my hands to create objects, pieces, tangible artefacts, scrolls, sculpture, anything! If I can’t produce a physical object, I am not satisfied. It doesn’t always have to begin or end with a physical piece of art, but somewhere along the process there will be art-making in the tradition sense of the term!
With this show, I am embracing my way of being an artist. Based on the notion of hand-made, my aim for this exhibition has been to look for artists who have spent significant time in arriving at the final material used to resolve their work while engaging with the process of making. Each artist in this group has painstakingly put together their piece(s), be it through hammering, connecting, layering, building or projecting their physical being on to their creation.

Furthermore, the current state of Hanmi gallery has been inspiring. The derelict interior architecture of this Central London gallery has a rustic and mortal feel that brings into focus the unique human quality of handmade as opposed to the slick machine or computer generated work of today. Advocating great significance to skill, the work in this exhibition is as much about the process of making as it is about the content. Materiality takes centre stage as the physical effort that has gone into the making comes to the fore as a subject just as important as the concept that drives the artist’s practice.

Quite often, to conceive an idea is sufficient and making a physical, tangible piece is secondary; technicians are involved, notes shared while engagement, materiality and personal skill are allotted a back seat. This show aims to address the craft versus concept hierarchy as the pieces included exhibit critical thinking via the action and labour that has contributed to the materialization of the work. As an ode to the artists of yesteryears, the artists in this group show recognise the importance of manual labour, skill and the act of making in art. Extrapolating from the technical expertise of the artists of bygone times, this group show will emphasise the careful deliberation on construction and materiality as a means of acknowledging craft and skill as a mandatory element of contemporary art.

The above statement is just the first off my checklist – Theme of exhibition. Check.

One down, plenty more to go.

And the plot thickens..

5 Oct

Cranial Concoction continued

Growing up in Pakistan, a dinner time concoction is not all one internalises.

Every year, following a little after Eid-ul-Fitr is Eid-al Azha, and try as you might you can’t ignore the animals, the slaughter nor the smell.
As muslims we sacrifice an animal in the name of God and distribute the meat to the poor and rich alike to gain God’s blessings. That may be noble but it is difficult to get passed the adorable animals being slaughtered left right and centre.

red-head rideThe poser, Red-head Ride

As a child I tried to watch the process as stoically as i could and perhaps at some point in time i decided that i was strong enough to not feel much. [Until I realized i was not.] Regardless, you still wonder if its fair and voice your concerns to your parents and elders. So I did.

And i was explained that it is important to do so because these animals will carry us to heaven when we die. Now, in hindsight I understand that they meant the animals were a means to attaining a place in Heaven i.e you do good, you get rewarded.  However, since this conversation was almost two decades ago, through my minds eye I imagined the animals literally pop wings and serve as my ride up. Indeed.

Now, getting back to my latest creative endeavor, the Bahishti Murghi (heavenly hen) eventually dies, of natural causes of course, and it is faced with the conundrum of deciding on a ride to heaven. Needless to repeat, it is going to heaven since it ate the unidentified divine seed of the pomegranate. And since my story began on my dinner table back in Pakistan, my hen is invariably muslim, it has to chose between sheep, a lamb, a cow and a camel. The four most popular animals for sacrifice on the event of Eid ul Azha.

Henceforth my latest piece is an ode to the Ride-to-Paradise brigade.



Red-Head Ride enjoying a green meal

Red-Head Ride enjoying a green meal

Cranial Concoction

26 Sep

I am glad to be free of the pressure and the stress related to being in school and completing a masters degree. Researching genetic engineering and the possibilities of adopting biotechnology for my work left me a bit drained. Craving a break and a lighter subject i decided to shift to miniature painting. Now, miniature painting is no joke but it is a great means of illustration and my plan is to illustrate a little something I refer to as a cranial concoction. Simply put, it’s a story.

My story begins where a myth ends; it continues on from where fact and fiction collide.

When I was little my parents used several techniques to teach us etiquette and train us for life. One way was through the act of storytelling.

Lesson no. 1
Don’t waste your food. Its a blessing from God.

In this vein, whenever there was a pomegranate in sight we were told a story based in religion. I am still not sure of its source or whether it was fiction – probably a myth – but it is widely believed that one unknown seed of the pomegranate is divine. Anyone who has that particular seed will go straight to heaven after death, skipping hell and punishment altogether. The Moral being that one should not waste their food (especially if its a pomegranate) and  eat all the juicy seeds.

Now back to the story.

*Scene – Dinner table, 8pm, when I was much younger*

Bearing in mind the divine nature of an unknown pomegranate seed, a man decides to leave civilisation and the hustle and bustle of city life behind for one afternoon to be able to eat his fruit (pom) in peace, far away from the distractions of daily life. His aim is to eat every seed so as to gain certainty of paradise upon death.
Sitting in a secluded area, he cuts open his fruit and starts deseeding it. Happily, he starts eating it. In the process, a single seed slips from between his fingers and rolls a short distance away. Before he can make a start to retrieve it, along comes a little hen and pecks away at the seed.

*Shocked silence*

*Hen clucking*

*The end*

There were always way too many conclusions at the end of this story in my head. Should he have shared? Greed is a bad thing. One must not look for shortcuts to go to heaven. And always, my final and most obvious conclusion was Now the hen will go to heaven. Or will it?

My next series of miniature paintings start where the story ends. The Hen pecks away at a seed, possibly a divine seed, unwittingly paving its way to paradise.

pecking away..

pecking away..


Miniature Ready

24 Aug
squirrel tails and paint

squirrel tails and paint

mixing mixing mixing away

moving forward slowly and steadily in the miniature race..

moving forward slowly and steadily in the miniature race..

Now on the brink of application, i am slowly advancing, almost done with making the hues!