Saluting women artists of Pakistan

Professor Qudsia Nisar instead used a subjective, imaginative, multilayered abstract vision to create hundreds of original new images
Professor Qudsia Nisar instead used a subjective, imaginative, multilayered abstract vision to create hundreds of original new images

The art world in Pakistan has been blessed with a number of women artists who are recognised not only locally but also by institutions and art lovers all over the world. The book '20 Pakistani Women Artists you should know' is a manifestation of the tremendous contribution these artists have made in their respective genres



Although, one must admit that there are many more talented artists not included in this list. The selection of the artists was also to depict the diversity in style by some of Pakistan's painters and sculptors. This book is not a selection of the best artists as that would be a very subjective selection, but highlights art and work that will excite readers, and stimulate their passion for art.
Here, Khaleej Times has reproduced excerpts and images from this book edited by art publisher and writer Tauqeer Muhajir.
Adeela Suleman
Suleman is known for the social and political commentary underlying her sculptures, which are created out of mundane, everyday objects. A theme running through her earlier work is the restrictions that women face in the private sphere. She has created helmets, body armour and corsets made out of kitchen utensils and other functional tools, to show the entrapment that the private sphere imposes upon women in the Pakistani society.
Her more recent work has moved towards flatter silhouettes and creating tableaux on steel sheets, where pastoral scenes are rendered in the filigree tradition of Islamic art on hard steel surfaces. These pastoral images are juxtaposed with symbols of destruction like weapons, the contradiction in these images signifying the indifference of society to the violence present within it.
Aisha Khalid
The themes and metaphors in her work are an outcome of her personal experiences relating to gender, aesthetics, the role of women and relations of power between the East and West. Khalid is part of a movement of artists in Pakistan that works in the traditional medium of miniature painting. However, her work juxtaposes these decorative surfaces with deeply controversial social and political messages.
Her work is in several museums and private collections all over the world, such as Aga Khan Museum Toronto, M+ Museum Toronto, V&A Museum, Fukuoka Asian Art Museum Japan, Sharjah Art Museum, Queensland Art Gallery, Sheikh Zaid Museum, Harris Museum and World Bank.
Wardha Shabbir
Wardha Shabbir is a contemporary artist involved in experimenting and exploring the dimensions of a 2D surface through painting, interactive installations, drawing and video. She was the first artist from Pakistan selected for Flacc, Belgium where she initiated a research-based experiment on human Sensorium while transforming 2D miniature paintings into 3D Interactive Environment.
In 2014, she exhibiter work in Dhaka Art Summit. In 2016, she was selected among the 20 artists from all over the world for the Intensive Program at Slade School of Fine Arts. She was nominated for the prestigious Jameel Prize 5 given by the Victoria & Albert Museum in London in 2017 and in 2018 she was shortlisted as one of 8 finalists for this award.
Durre Waseem
Waseem paints in oil, pastels, watercolor, ink, and acrylics and captures the local color of both the people and the place of wherever she may be. Her bold, colourful brushwork and loose impressionistic style effectively capture the energy and feeling of her subject and establishes a direct line of communication with the viewer. Her inspiration is usually an ordinary object, how its identity is defined by its environment, and how it becomes a part of its surroundings. Durre Waseem is a Laguna Plein Air Painters Association Signature Artist and has participated in many national and international exhibitions both in Pakistan and the U.S. She has won several awards for her works, including the 2018 2nd Place Award in LPAPA's 14th Annual "Best of Plein Air" juried art show.
Sadaf Naeem
Sadaf Naeem has been the recipient of the Nigaah Art Award 2017 in landscape painting with honourable mention. Naeem has participated in national and international group shows in London, India, Korea, Oman and Sri Lanka. Her work can be seen in private and official collection and it has been reproduced in different art publications locally and internationally.
Naeem is an artist of great delicacy as her paintings are focused on the fluidity of texture, surfaces and luminous layered space. Some of her work speaks of the isolation of women even within the domestic space. Her work is intensely feminine and deals in a sympathetic way about themes such as 'purdah' and loneliness.
Huma Mulji
She works with sculpture, photography, drawing, and painting, creating material and visual juxtapositions that are attentive to the absurd, and question the certainty of what is considered fact. The deliberately awkward artworks dwell on failure and futility, are spatially evocative, and imbue an anti-heroism that plays out ironically, in her works. Mulji's participation in recent exhibitions includes In the Open or in Stealth, MACBA, Barcelona 2018, Witness, Karachi Biennale 2017, "A country of Last Things" (solo), Koel Gallery, Karachi, 2016, "The Great Game", Irani Pavillion, Venice Biennale, 2015, among others. Mulji was a recipient of the Nigaah Art Award for print making in 2017 and the Abraaj Group Art Prize 2013.
Laila Shahzada
Laila became fascinated by the colourful art of the trucks moving throughout the country, and she started visiting the various places where the trucks were painted. She set up a workshop for the truck artists in Karachi, and in 1985, organised the first exhibition of Truck Art in the country held at the Pakistan American Cultural Center. Though local visitors were unsure of their feelings on the show; it was hugely successful with the foreign community in Karachi at that time, and many of the exhibits found homes. Laila was awarded the Tamgha-e-Imtiaz in 1986. A new period in her art started when she visited the mountainous areas in the northern regions of the country.
She painted the mountains and created a series that in 1995, was included in an exhibition of Paintings from Pakistan at the Pacific Asia Museum, California. It was there her mountainous landscape canvases were considered paintings on par with those of Georgia O'Keefe.
Meher Afroz
Meher Afroz reflects the printmaker and painting style that merges both a modern approach imbibed in tradition. Her work is a manifestation of traditional Islamic geometrical patterns that shows cerebral interpretation. The use of grid has been one of her major themes where she shows Gulistan Hamara series in which she uses the metaphor of the Char Bagh or heavenly garden to concentrate on concerns of political and humanistic chaos. In other works, the multitude of square is evident.
Mona Naqsh
The central theme of her work revolves around delicate petals, stems and flower bouquets such as chrysanthemums and daisies. This has remained her signature style since her debut solo exhibition that surfaced in 1997.
For Naqsh, flowers are schools of growth and education and communicators of joy, achievement, contentment and everything that gives one inner satisfaction. The flowers follow the metaphorical completion of how God recreates life from the dead in the same way a seed is given life after a plant dies.
Rabia Zuberi
She established Karachi School of Art in 1964 and served as Chairman Fine Arts Committee of Pakistan for three years and established a Permanent Art Gallery at the Pakistan Arts Council, Karachi.
She has been commissioned by the Government of Pakistan to work on two life sized sculptures for the Presidency, which she completed in 1978. The 20-feet high sculpture prepared in iron and fiberglass that is currently displayed at Zam Zama Clifton, Karachi is a marvel that Zuberi made for Pakistan Navy. Besides these, her other commissioned work includes three life sized sculptures for a leading Industrial organization in Karachi. A book titled "Rabia Zuberi - Life & Work" has been written by Marjorie Husain in 2009 that features her achievements and contribution to arts. Her work has also received commendable appreciation in a book "Unveiling the Visible - Lives and Works of Women Artists of Pakistan" written by Salima Hashmi in 2002.
Nausheen Saeed
Her work is part of a number of private and public collections, including: World Bank, Washington; Levi's Pakistan, Lahore; National College of Arts, Lahore; Toyota Tsusho, Tokyo. Saeed's feminist art practice sculpturally takes the body as the site of contention, conflict and controversy. Her work celebrates the female body, extricating her figures from the residue of the male gaze so that they exist as independent entities, proclaiming their individuality as their strength.
To create her pieces, Saeed mostly uses fabric with traditional motifs, like paisley, wrapped around a fiberglass body. The luggage straps and handles reinforce the notion of women being enslaved, and helpless, dependent upon others to be moved.
Qudsia Nisar
Prior to her introduction and specialisation in this form, water colour was used to depict still-life, landscapes, seascapes and figure compositions. Professor Qudsia Nisar instead used a subjective, imaginative, multilayered abstract vision to create hundreds of original new images, vibrant with inventive forms and shapes, beautiful colours with subtle tones and nuances. Her artworks are displayed in both national and international art galleries, museums, Governor House Karachi, Governor House Lahore, universities, educational institutes, banks and corporate entities.
Anna Molka Ahmed
Anna was deeply fascinated by art movements and the social and cultural conditions, which directly impacted her art. Anna was inspired by the fact that history and art were closely linked together. One of many such paintings includes her strikingly beautiful painting depicting the division of the subcontinent and the War of 1965 between India and Pakistan. These paintings are bold and radical in what they stand for. However, the artist was best known for painting still-life, nature and had a knack for portraiture. Her paintings, which were often done in the impressionist style, are captivating in their technique rather in what they represent.
Anna was unapologetic about her bold and often fierce treatment of subjects. She commonly made use of the knife to give texture and style to her paintings. Her work was often done in watercolors, fresco, oil, wax, tempera, gouache and sometimes a combination of these.
Talat Dabir
Dabir who joined NCA in the capacity of visiting lecturer, department of fine arts in 1977, remained Associate Professor Fine Arts at the NCA for many years and retired in 2005 as head of department. Even after leaving NCA, she remained affiliated with NCA as a visiting faculty till 2011. As a sculptor, she employs the medium of terra cotta to create the skill and ease of long practice, and the uncluttered figures that are recognisably her signature work.
Dabir has exhibited her work in numerous national and international events including both public and private collections. Some of her acquisitions and commissions of great repute include murals for Nescom, Islamabad, Allama Iqbal International Airport, Citi Bank, Karachi, Nabil Dervaish Museum, Cairo, Parliament House, Islamabad and Eden Center, Lahore. Her ceramic panels are displayed at the Presidency, Islamabad, NDFC Women Bank, Lahore and Alhamra Arts Council, Lahore.
Riffat Alvi
Riffat Alvi is a seasoned painter and artist of great repute. She graduated in fine arts from Karachi School of Art in 1973. Riffat has been a consistent painter and is the only artist in the country, who works with the earth medium. Additionally, she has used her insight as a painter to manage one of Karachi's most successful VM Art gallery as a curator and director.
Riffat Alvi is renowned for her work in ceramics and the third dimension as well as for the earth pigment technique she discovered in Africa which created great interest internationally. In a layered, contemporary style the artist created a series of paintings: Mohenjodaro, using the earth from the site as medium.
Salima Hashmi
Professor Salima Hashmi is an artist, curator and writer on art and culture. She was on the faculty of the National College of Arts, Lahore for 30 years, and served as Principal for four years.
In 1999, she received The President's Award for Pride of Performance of Art Education. She was also nominated as Inaugural International Fellow by the Australian Council of Art and Design Schools (ACUADS) in 2011 for distinguished service to art and design education. The Alma Culture Center, Oslo, Norway presented her with the Alma Award in 2016 for promotion of tolerance through performance. The same year, she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by Bath Spa University in the UK. In 2017, Professor Hashmi was made Professor Emeritus, School of Visual Art and Design, Beaconhouse National University in 2017. She was a jury member for the Jerwood Drawing Prize, Jerwood Charitable Foundation, UK in 2011. Salima Hashmi received the Lifetime Achievement Award by Nigaah Art Awards 2017.

Rahat Naveed Masud
Having had the facility of studying and being trained in both Western methods of art as well as traditional miniature painting, she evolved her own signature style by re-inventing materials such as handmade paper, gold leaf and powdered pastels. She comfortably switches over from one medium to the other and excels in both. This homogenisation of both styles is evident in the layout and approach of her paintings, where design and composition appear abstracted but the form and colour reflect training of a more observed reality.
As a painter she has created a niche for herself with her unique and sensitive approach towards her subject, palpable in her paintings. The nuances and the predicament of human experiences is subtly expressed in her work. The female form, her favoured subject, becomes representative of all humankind and articulates contemporary social and political concerns, depicting the vulnerability and resilience of ordinary people. Her many self-portraits depict the same. Her paintings are heavily laden with signs and symbols. These symbols act as a zad-e-rah in adventures of her explorations of the human figure on a subjective as well as objective levels.

Shahzia Sikander
Conceptual, feminist and innovative, Shahzia Sikander's artistic practice engages the techniques, formal tropes, and visual repertoire of the Indo-Persian miniature from its pre-modern beginnings to its contemporary connotations of tourist kitsch and colonial residue. For three decades, Sikander has investigated the art historical tradition of Indo-Persian miniature painting and the provenance and story of Islamic visual traditions. Her work challenges patriarchal and colonial narratives and highlights the importance of women across fields and cultures.
Sikander is the first Pakistani born artist to be inducted in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery (2017) and the first Pakistani to win the U.S. Department of State Medal of Arts (2012). Sikander was recently appointed to the Mayoral Advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments, and Markers in New York, where she currently lives.
Nahid Raza
Abstract and organic forms came together and she became increasingly involved with the textured surface of her work. In 1970, Raza had her first solo exhibition at Goethe Institute Karachi.
Raza has also taught art at the PECHS Girls School and Convent of Jesus and Mary School in Karachi. After eighteen years of teaching at CJM, she joined CIAC to teach art. Her early series were titled 'Reflection', 'Jharoke' and 'Still Life', in which she interfaced geometric-shaped objects and cubes. She painted landscapes dotted with houses and incorporated aspects of nature in her work in an award-winning series titled 'Trees'. The 'Chawkandi' series of paintings has earned Raza her first significant claim to fame; four of her paintings were purchased by Bradford Museum, Yorkshire, UK.
Obsessive about her work, she paints constantly, reflecting various periods of her life with intuitive awareness. Raza has been the recipient of 'The President's Award' for Pride of Performance in 2007.
Hajra Mansur
Her themes mostly delve on romance inspired by traditional schools of Mughal Miniature art. Her rhythmic brush strokes and decorative elements provide an apparent brilliance that also carries a universal appeal. Hajra Mansoor does not use models for her paintings, instead she derives her inspirations from Asian ideals of beauty and focuses on promoting and enhancing them by exaggerating the features. Big colored eyes, very clear skin with a tinge of pink and delicate lips along with articulating hand gestures are consistent in her work. The figures are seen combing their hair, holding a kohl (surma) box or putting their jewelry on, others are painted with different birds like pigeons or peacocks, as if sharing their secrets of love with them.
 


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