Dua Abbas is an award-winning visual artist and writer based in Lahore. She graduated from the National College of Arts in 2009 with a Distinction in Painting, and was awarded the Shakir Ali Award and Sir Percy Brown Prize for excellence in Fine Art and History of Art. Her work has been exhibited across Pakistan and in group shows in Dubai and India. Notable shows include Elegies, Effigies (Taseer Art Gallery, Lahore), Within and Without (Full Circle Gallery, Karachi), Body of Work and Conch Curve Creation (The Drawing Room Gallery, Lahore), Young Blood (Canvas Gallery, Karachi),Art – A New Approach (Ejaz Art Gallery, Lahore) and Vast Narratives (Rohtas Gallery, Islamabad). Some of her paintings are in private collections in France, USA, India and Canada. The young artist’s vision is highly reflective, charged with a beatific melancholia, that leaves one spellbound. Dua speaks to Afshan Shafi about all aspects of her craft.

What was the theme for your latest exhibit?

Briefly it was about restoring feminine agency to stories from familial, cross-cultural, and religious sources.

Which artists, local or international, have influenced or informed your point of view the most?

  1. M. Naeem, Quddus Mirza and Anwar Saeed

What has been a seminal, life changing experience in terms of your art?

That would be my first visual arts residency at Vermont Studio Centre. The conversations I had with the artists and writers, and being mentored by such accomplished artists such as Amy Cutler and David Humphrey helped me develop my processes in ways I couldn’t have imagined.

Which of your creations are you most attached to and why?

This little work from 2013 I made in pastels and coloured pencils for my solo exhibition at theTaseer Art Gallery. It was titled Orpheus was on the Line and remains very special to me because I was able to reinterpret a beautiful Greek myth through it, from a feminist viewpoint. It had, I felt, the quality of children’s storybook illustrations, which made it very intimate.

“The conversations I had with the artists and writers, and being mentored by such accomplished artists as Amy Cutler and David Humphrey at my visual arts residency at the Vermont Studio Centre helped me develop my processes in ways I couldn’t have imagined”

What themes do you find yourself drawn towards most often in your art?

Feminist retellings of stories from various cultures; women and their interaction with spaces; familial lore and memory.

Name something you love, and why?

The thrill of getting a book that I’ve wanted to read. All the new things you get to learn, the countless delightful ways words can be put together, the romance of an idea or a faraway place – it all makes me genuinely happy.

Name something you don’t love, and why?

Not being able to walk around freely in my own city. I love walking, a big part of the charm of travelling to foreign places is feeling fully mobile, but it breaks my heart to see street harassment in Lahore getting worse with time.

If you could travel back in time to an era in art history which period would you choose and why?

I’m torn between the European Renaissance (its Italian chapter, in particular) – the art produced during it will always be my first love, really, and I’d love to see Botticelli and Da Vinci at work – and Art Nouveau. Fin-de-siècle Paris must have been so exciting.

What is your dream project?

Producing as an illustrated book or animated featureof  a series of stories I’m writing.

What work of art do you wish you owned?

So many of them! But off the top of my head, a haunting central panel of a triptych by Remedios Varo from 1961. I wouldn’t mind the whole thing, of course, but it’s this central painting – Embroidering the Earth’s Mantle – that resonates so much with me.

Whose portrait would you love to make?

Angela Carter’s. I wish I could have met and painted her.

Which artists living or dead would you have loved to collaborate with?

Paula Rego, Cindy Sherman, Amy Cutler, and Sara Khan.

What memorable responses have you had to your work?

My family always responds very zealously to any new work that I make (my father has a custom of printing images of my works and putting them in little frames all over the house). But just last month, in Karachi, I was so moved by how Marjorie Husain responded to a display of my work at Canvas Gallery – she held my hand and gazed lovingly at two of the big portraits and told me she was completely enraptured by the faces and the wistfulness on them. I was over the moon!

What are you working on as a future project?

A series of mixed media works that will explore the portrayal of women in local, popular culture.

Good Times


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