Give Peace a Chance

Most of her paintings fuse Islamic, Christian, Jewish and Hindu traditions. Using strong bold colours, they blend modernity with religious philosophies.

By Raziqueh Hussain

Published: Fri 11 Dec 2009, 9:39 PM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 8:17 AM

Each of Faiza Shaikh’s works imparts a message of religious tolerance and peace in a world torn apart by war, terrorism, distrust and chaos. Her show entitled ‘Unseen power’ will be on at the Capital Club, DIFC, till today.

Shaikh is a London-based Pakistani artist who’s geared towards making a change in the world through her art. “I paint the philosophy I meditate upon. I use texts from various philosophies (Quran, Bhagavad Gita, Torah and Bible) to represent the universality of their ideas. My journey has exposed me to a variety of philosophical thoughts. I aspire for ultimate enlightenment and attempt to share this aspiration through my work,” she says.

During the time of the Ottoman Empire, Muslims preached tolerance. It was one of the first societies that allowed other religions to live peacefully together. Shaikh’s work is reminiscent of that era. It’s admirable how she doesn’t let what anyone thinks of her merging the religions affect her work — she simply makes sure that the sanctity of the religions is kept intact. The beauty of this is that she represents the right to freedom of speech on a whole new level. In her paintings, the emphasis is on the fact that there is freedom that gives us the right to follow and advocate our own religion.

The main purpose of infusing text on painting is to engage the viewer. She feels once her painting is on the wall, people get curious to know the meaning of the text. “They are directed to it. It may spark a debate, a conversation or perhaps, just appreciation,” she says.

Strong bold colours, sharp contrasts and a sense of power and modernity strike you very strongly when you see philosophy and poetry on canvas. Each painting imparts a message, a philosophy, a theme — and each is extremely current and thought-provoking.

“My favourite painting today is ‘the power of will’ as it addresses the most fundamental philosophical question: is there free will or is life predetermined? However, unless each painting is better than the previous one, it is not complete,” Shaikh states matter-of-factly.

The creative platform — theatre, dance, film and art — is used as a commentary on society. In Pakistan, in particular, recent films have been a commentary on politics or current affairs. She does feel that her work has a message and participates in the current debates raging in Pakistan. “The influence of living in London is that it used to teach the beauty of tolerance, during my growing years. The society allows respectful co-existence of all cultures. If you delve into history, the English and French have fought many battles... similarly with the Germans... and yet today they are part of the European Union sharing common currencies and common laws. Shouldn’t the subcontinent learn from this maturity? If the politicians fail to display this maturity, artists should nudge them into this direction. We live in hope,” she says.

Religious opposition doesn’t deter her spirit. “I purposely leave a lot in my paintings open to interpretation. I target an intelligent audience who can think for itself. They can interpret the colours, the presentation and the drama as they see it. The viewer may have a totally different appreciation of my paintings — and that is fine,” says the artist, who has exhibited works at the Blackrat Press and BAFTA in London.

Shaikh will be exhibiting a show ‘Art is Dangerous’ in India at Studio Napean in Mumbai, in March next year.

Her outlook in life is completely optimistic. Her paintings are a celebration of life. “I look at this world as an onlooker, a detached person and see and enjoy what’s going on as the tamasha (craziness) unfolds,” she says, adding, “I choose to live in my own world, where I define my own rules. I exist in nirvana where everything is perfect. It is in this state that I paint so I am detached; I’m devoted and obsessive when I paint and I hope that my paintings display these emotions.”

Her message to artists growing up in these times of war and turmoil is simple but hard-hitting: “Try to make a difference.”

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