Passionate, young artist Eman F. Khan’s highly accomplished compositions convey a sense of lightness and purity, like a reflective daydream. Eman tells Afshan Shafi about all aspects of her vision
Please tell us about your background as an artist and your education in this regard.
Ever since I can recall I’ve been extremely fond of art; I can’t remember if there was any one thing in particular that initiated this passion, only that it’s been a powerful constant. From doodling in textbooks, notebooks and even on my hands and arms in school (definitely not a concept liked by my parents and teachers), I found a delightful fluidity in watercolour paintings (during O/A Levels at Lahore Grammar School DHA). With a vested interest in portraits and the human form, I really enjoyed discovering the colour and detail that goes into a painting. Nearing the end of my secondary schooling I applied for Graphic Design courses in the UK and got accepted to Central Saint Martins, which is part of the University of the Arts London, for a foundation diploma (2013-14). So I started a new chapter in my sketchbook, being thrown into an array of quick yet taxing projects that awakened an impromptu creativity in me I never knew existed. Getting a distinction at CSM, I then started my undergraduate degree (BA) at UAL, at the London College of Communication (2014-17) soon after. The next three years were a mix of great achievements and terrible projects, which I feel really shaped who I am as a person, my work as an artist and my hope to excel as a professional.
Which artists, local or international, have influenced or informed your point of view the most?
I’ve always been drawn to Frida Kahlo, not just as an artist but as a woman who literally was her work; she was an advocate for knowing herself best, and making her life into a work of art (in her actions, opinions, fashion and obviously paintings). I love her because she was a true artist, a woman who defied gender stereotypes, but most of all a woman who embraced being different and weird. Frida Kahlo rose above being “the wife of” Diego Rivera, and forged herself into an icon of strength and a fierce symbol of female empowerment. In my opinion her achievement will never be erased, and in my life it will always be a driving force to remind me who I am and where I come from above all else.
What has been a seminal, life changing experience in terms of your art?
Someone I knew once told me while I was struggling to create, “Don’t think, just do.” Being of sound mind I obviously didn’t listen to that advice because when you tell someone (specifically me) not to think, I end up thinking even more. The weight of those words hit me some time later in a moment of epiphany—the times I create most freely were the times when I doodled with music on in the background, or when I wasn’t really concentrating too much on my illustration. I was only aware of creating, but neither over thinking the process nor the end product. It’s a reminder to trust my instincts and create first, worry later.
“Don’t think, just do”
Which of your creations are you most attached to and why?
favourite child (as in the memorable Meryl Streep tear jerker Sophie’s Choice), some may have been created better than others but in the end you love them all the same.
What themes do you find yourself drawn towards most often in your art?
From the progression of my more recent works (and even picking from older compositions, etc.) my work includes a heavy theme of psychology and traces of philosophy. From concepts like mental health to mind wandering to solipsism, my work ordinarily takes on an abstract, occasionally a surreal and often a dark turn into the unseen workings of the mind.
If you could travel back in time to an era in art history which period would you choose and why?
While I feel this current age we call Artistic Pluralism is a testament to the ever present evolution of art, if I could travel back I would have loved to experience the early age of Modernism (late 19th to early 20th century), more specifically the transition period from Neoclassical to Modernism. Artists like Claude Monet, Frida Kahlo, Edvard Munch and many more were important factors in creating a new identity in the world. It was the shift of not just of a style of art, but it propelled a shift in an entire mind-set; a way of thinking, a rejection of the norm with the moral destruction per se of a system of religion and structure, and is a movement we’re still experiencing the shockwaves of today. It was as if the world was being rediscovered entirely, and is definitely something I would have liked to have experienced in person.
What is your dream project?
I think one of my many dream projects would be to be involved in a campaign for educating people and improving the conditions of climate change presently. Concepts like 350 Earth tackle the awareness of climate change through international involvement, and I would definitely like to be involved in something similar.
Which work of art do you wish you owned?
Quite literally anything made by Shahzia Sikander! I’m absolutely in love with her composition, colour and form.
Whose portrait would you love to make?
Jean Michel Basquiat—his entire aesthetic calls for a super colourful, creative and urban mixed-media portrait.
Which artists living or dead would you have loved to collaborate with?
I would have loved to collaborate with Frida Kahlo, studied her art form and her use of symbolism. I’m also interested in how she conveyed her perspective of the human form and the vivid surrealism of her expression.
most memorable responses you have had to your work?
This is so incredibly cheesy I almost wasn’t going to write it, but my mother told me a while ago that she couldn’t wait for my A-level paintings to come back from Cambridge so that she could frame them and put them up all around the house.
And I know because she’s my Ma she HAS to say she loves my work (haha), but I know she genuinely meant it when she said that and it still is a great feeling.
What are you working on as a future project?
Right now as a more personal project I’m in the process of creating a series of images based on psychology and abstract surrealism, trying to get back in touch with fine art and continuing themes I’ve worked on in my undergraduate degree.
As for the future I have a few ideas of motion pictures that will continue on the same theme. I’m building a site where prints of my work and maybe even original pieces would be up for sale, so it is something to watch out for if you find my work interesting.