Pakistani women artists make power statement in India (With Images)

March 30th, 2009 - 10:42 am ICT by IANS  

By Madhusree Chatterjee
New Delhi, March 30 (IANS) Pakistani women artists are pushing new frontiers despite a conservative social milieu controlled by men. For proof one need look no further than an exhibition in the Indian capital displaying the works of three young women from Lahore.

The creations of Faiza Butt, Ruby Chisti and Masooma Syed reflect diverse themes, mediums and new techniques that women in Pakistan’s artistic fraternity have been experimenting with for the last five years. These are on display at the Vadehra Gallery.

Their mediums are as eclectic and innovative. Chisti, for instance, works with old family fabric, bathroom faucets and wires.

“My brother died young at the age of 27 and I had to do something to get rid of the memories. I joined the National College of Arts in Lahore and the tools that I gathered after four years of training helped me firm up my artistic vocabulary, which were my life’s experiences,” Chisti told IANS. She currently lives in California where her family moved in 2001.

Chisti disappeared from the art scene for 11 years when she nursed her paralysed mother till her death. “It was then that I developed an affinity for old fabrics - the rags at home - which were as frail as my mother. I had heaps and heaps of fabrics at home, which I refused to throw away,” Chisti recalled.

The fact that she was the fourth daughter also influenced her art.

“I had to live with the feeling of being unwanted because my father was upset. I even made a fabric installation, ‘My birth will take place a thousand times, no matter how you celebrate it,” of five women mourning the birth of the fourth girl child,” she recalled.

Another installation, “Free Hags”, a collection of stuffed middle-aged female dolls in various stages of bonding, is a comment on how women often fall back on each other for support in closed Islamic societies, polarised along gender lines.

Chisti will show her works at the Green Cardamom Gallery in London next month.

Syed, a National College of Art (NCA) graduate, likes to work with new material to express new ideas. Her installations make use of human hair, painted nails, porcupine needles and even country liquor in bottles and pouches.

“Experimenting with innovative material is an urge I cannot control. I constantly struggle to hunt for new mediums,” Syed told IANS.

She started using human hair for installations at five years age. “Hair is a difficult material to handle because it is so light and transparent. I tried to make a big dead bird (’Amateurishly Painted’) trying to rise from the ashes, but I was not too sure,” the artist said.

Syed’s art is inspired by freedom, death, love and the flight of birds - like the mythical Persian Simour, the messenger of purity.

NCA graduate Faiza Butt’s series in mixed media - “Tales of Whopped Fantasies”, “Placebos for my Warriors” , “I will be safe in my own mind” and “Get Out of my Dreams” - touch upon contemporary realities like terrorism in Pakistan and elsewhere, gay love in times of terror and overt consumerism.

“Young artists in Pakistan are thinking. Their work is very good and different,” artist Subodh Gupta, who checked out the art works, told IANS.

“It is an act of courage on the part of these girls to come and show their works in India. This exhibition was supposed to be held Dec 10, but had to be put off because of the Mumbai blasts,” Salima Hashmi, dean of the visual arts department of Beaconhouse National University in Lahore, told IANS. All the three artists are her former students.

Women dominate the art scene in Pakistan and are now more visible than men.

“They tackle all kinds of subjects that were earlier taboo - like female sexuality, ownership of the body, violence against women and democracy,” she said.

During the reign of Zia-ul Haq, Hashmi said, the government was propagating calligraphy and landscape paintings, which were safe subjects. “Several male artists compromised, but the women created a tradition as independent practitioners of art doing what they want,” said Hashmi, the daughter of poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at

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