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‘I face non-related art criticism’

‘I face non-related art criticism’
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Tell us a bit about yourself. Right from childhood to eventually painting posters and now canvases.
I started off as a billboard painter. Always wanted to draw, so I attached myself with local painters as an assistant so that I could earn for materials that I wanted to work with and have access to large scale surfaces so I can practice without any financial hindrances. It was in 2000 when I got admitted in National College of Arts that I started academically being introduced to art and its many facets. Miniatures held a lot of appeal to me because at the time it was easily affordable. Later the technique held so much appeal that I decided to play with it a little further. I enjoyed adding sculptural elements into my wasli, making cut outs, perforations and then playing around with images that would go in conjunction with it.

Do you believe in this high art  - low art distinction? Because according to the definitions - you have dabbled in both.
For me art enjoys a very abject position in our perceptions, no one can decipher or pin point when an artist is going to make a master piece, not even the artist him/herself. It just happens. Of course how the art is being looked at, what platform it is being exposed on, who is patronizing it, all these ingredients involve to create this abjectness. If I approach this question with a personalised view I would have to say that while enjoying the position of a cinema board painter because at that time it satisfied my need to buy art materials, no one saw what I was making, but I was making art. Today I may be using the same genre images and they are being shown at various public spaces and suddenly everyone is focusing on ‘what’ and ‘why’ I am making them.

How difficult or easy was it to move from pop art to a newer strain of creativity?
Pop art is still a very inherent part of my imagery and I guess it shall always be there, lurking in the background coming forward whenever it can because it is part of my basic training. Perceptions about art did change because before I had a very limited experience about ‘painting’ I thought I was coming to Lahore to understand how I can better my skills although I knew that I had learnt from the best because my ‘ustaad’ was the best. It was hard keeping a very open mind to what I was coming across during class. The need to excel allowed me to understand that while I was very good with my skills, the creativity part left a lot of be desired. It was then that I allowed myself to look at a certain painting in another light, the ‘isms’ that I had been introduced in the academia came forward and I realized that marrying skill with creativity can lead to much more.

What would you consider your major influences?
Travelling. My first visit to India and then to London was a life changing experience for me. I had never travelled abroad. The first experience of entering the boarding lounge, sitting in the aeroplane, the excitement of the take off and landing, it was just… I really have no idea how I can explain that. I feel my work is a better illustration of how breathtaking those days were for me to this date. In India no one recognized me as a foreigner, I easily gelled in, became a part of the society. I could talk in their language as well. That was an awesome experience.

Is there a lot of difference in the art cultures of India and Pakistan?
Not really. I think we are of the same culture at least the northern and central India and Pakistan, because geographically we were once connected. Our daily lives are same, we identify with each other and coexisted quite well for a long time. Of course, with Hindus and Sikhs still have a presence here we get to see and celebrate Diwali and other festivals.

As a Pakistani artist displaying his work in India, how have you been perceived, approached and treated?
Very well. It is always a pleasure to exhibit my work in India where ever and which ever city it happens to be in. My works and myself, receives a warm welcome. I have many friends who are close to my heart now in India.

Do you think art can be a peace bridge? Have you ever faced any criticism that is not art related?
I have never faced criticism from India regarding my practice or images. It has always been welcomed. As artists we can try to build connections and spread a more positive and softer side to our relations and we are doing that all the time. A non related art criticism I face…my appearance and how I dress. I don't follow dress codes! For this reason I have been kicked out of many clubs. Even my marriage lunch I couldn't attend because I wasn't wearing the right shoes. It is a point of confusion for me because as artists we are encouraged to think and view things differently.

How has the Delhi art circle treated you?
Delhi art circle as always been an exciting host. The energy is so positive and the feedback and response is great. One thing I enjoy the most is the readiness of the audience to discuss and tell me what they think about my work. They don't limit their reactions, which is very fresh. Most of the discussions are friendly heated debates and quite exhilarating. Delhi reminds me of Lahore. There is so much familiarity of spaces and places and people and yet I am a foreigner. That is what I like about the whole experience. As for a dislike- Delhi being so close to my heart because it was my first international exit as an artist, my parents being from here, it holds a lot attraction and unexplored bonds. All this pull to the beautiful city and I cant come as often and as easily as I would like to.
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