For Art’s Sake


As Salvador Dali famously said, a true artist is not one who is inspired but one who inspires others. This holds true for Raja Changez Sultan, a remarkable artist, writer and author of the book Shakarparian. He has created at least 5,000 paintings throughout his eminent career spanning nearly 50 years. Changez shares insight about his early life, mastered artistry and new painting series with Haider Rifaat

Give us your background.

I started painting 1967. I did my MFA and MSc in Communications and Writing from Columbia University. Before that, I studied in England at a boarding school as well as Lawrence College, Murree. I worked for the United Nations and came back to Pakistan to serve the government, mostly in the tourism sector. I was appointed Director General for Pakistan National Council of the Arts (PNCA) in Islamabad.

PNCA, being a fantastic institution, deals with artists, thinkers, writers, visual and performing arts and the country needs something like that, possibly in a more invigorated sense. The provinces have their own art councils but they are not quite active and barely contribute to the community of artists.

I believe that arts awareness in our country is not as revered as it is in India or Sri Lanka. If you are an artist or a thinker in such countries, the state machinery gives you a lot of respect and regard. In Pakistan, you are subject to serve their purposes and not contribute to the vision or direction of the country. Thus, there is a huge difference in perception.

“The biggest problem many people have is the inability to communicate and express themselves and it eventually blocks them up in a neurotic or psychotic state of mind”

Which are some of the more significant art shows you have participated in?

Let me be honest here. I am not a member of a group. I do not belong to the Punjab or Karachi lot. I have an independent education and awareness of where my art has taken me. Yes, I have communicated with such individuals as Director General but I did not contribute to their group. My name was up for the Pride of Performance Award a few years ago but I practice my art irrespective of what other people do and what accolades are given. I do not believe in such things.

The Divided Self (1968)

The government of Austria organized my notable exhibition at the Winter Palace (in Vienna). It was not open for exhibitions for the last 100 years but they made an exception for me. I have also had artistic displays in Switzerland, England, Singapore, India and so on. Having worked 16-17 hours a day throughout my life, I have never veered off the track.

You are unique in the country because your paintings are inspired by your poetry. Each poem has a corresponding painting. Describe your creative process.

“A woman subdivides more than a man does because when a woman gives birth to a child, a physical part of her becomes an extension of her”

The definition of aesthetics is how a person walks or talks, and a part of that translates into certain things that you may end up doing, be it painting, writing or any form of creativity. A part of his or her personality becomes an aesthetic, a signature that a person carries throughout his or her life. Being able to refine and define that aspect of yourself is what arts is all about.

Symphony In Yellow (1969)

When I paint, I always think in terms of series, not something that starts today and finishes tomorrow but something that starts today and stays with me for the rest of my life. It is pointless to invest my energy for three days on a one of a kind painting and work on something else the next day.

“The importance given to a man sacrificing himself is one in many centuries but a woman is put on a cross every day”

The first series I started to paint was the Divided Self. It came about because I had been working in mental hospitals in the United States and using creative therapy to help mental patients. The biggest problem many people have is the inability to communicate and express themselves and it eventually blocks them up in a neurotic or psychotic state of mind. There are so many personalities in us; some push us forward while others hold us back.

To find a visual representation of the Divided Self, I had to do a lot of thinking on how to approach the subject. One should know that it is an invariable representation of the same person but different aspects of a person. Even today, many people ask, why it is mostly women? It is because a woman subdivides more than a man does because when a woman gives birth to a child, a physical part of her becomes an extension of her. A man, however, ends up narrowing his perspective. A woman further splits; her subtotal will be herself and all the people she loves, especially her children.

I write on similar themes and paint them. The second series I took on was Himalayan Odyssey, which was about a series of mountains. It is based on my experiences traveling different mountain ranges. A part of them became a part of me. It makes sense when I paint about mountains because I have had a long-term interaction with them.

The themes of your paintings range from such diverse topics as politics to female beauty but your style of course is similar. Describe your painting style. What other themes have you tackled?

The most recent series I have been working on is the Crucifixion of Eve. The philosophy behind it is simple; from Adam and Eve’s time to the present, a woman has had to bear the brunt of responsibility of the world, whether it is childbirth or looking after generations. The importance given to a man sacrificing himself is one in many centuries but a woman is put on a cross every day. We give respect to a woman when we think of our mother or sister but generally, we do not regard woman the way we should. So, I replaced Christ with Eve on the cross in my latest painting as it made more sense. More or less, my painting style is a blend of expressionism and impressionism.


A Greek term meaning a dramatic, verbal description of a visual work of art

The Himalayan Odyssey

In these silent wastes

Only spirits roam

Searching an elusive peace,

The primal union of man and stone!

An art critic wrote that your “work is linked in its various moods by a sense of timelessness, a fantasy that remains to haunt the viewers memory.” What does this sense of timelessness represent? What feelings in the viewer do you seek to evoke?

People have used art for different purposes. Today, if I start painting Nanga Parbat, it is making it as regional as it can be. To me, a mountain is something common and so is a woman. When you paint images that are universal, they never age and may never transcend to an expected level. I will not paint something that makes a woman belong to a specific era. If I do that, it takes the universality away from the image.

If you aim for universality of art, you build bridges to bring people together. You are not looking for differences that separate them. There are different approaches that people assume and people do not wish to think about such things. I do, because it is easy for me to build a bridge than a castle. The timelessness aspect comes in only if you are dealing with permanent thoughts; mountains, rivers and a flower’s body are timeless.

Crucifixion Of Eve (2017), Mr Sultan’s Latest Artistic Venture

“My painting style is a blend of expressionism and impressionism”

The selection of imagery used defines the kind of work you do. Every individual has a set of responses to art. I would never want anyone to feel some way about my art. If I have done justice to my piece, I will be more interested in what I am capable of doing.

Your paintings have an otherworldly element to them, i.e. bathed in mist. How do you achieve this effect? Do you use thin washes of paint? Tell us about your technique.

Yes, I use thin washes of paint. I always look for my own solutions. I do not live with other people’s work. I always find what I am capable of doing, not what others have done or not done. I use cloth to make a brush as opposed to using a conventional thick brush. The control on the canvas is much more freeing and you can create more textural effect with it.

A majority of artists add paint to the canvas and they create their images that way. I, on the other hand, might  put paint on a canvas but I would often remove it to create images out of the same canvas. So, it is almost a reverse application of paint.

The Three Graces
The Three Graces (2017)

“If you aim for universality of art, you build bridges to bring people together. You are not looking for differences that separate them”

Who are some of the more avid and notable collectors of your work?

There are many people but I won’t take names as it draws emphasis to them. What people buy or don’t buy will never define your art. I have been lucky that I never had to compromise my work to suit someone else’s purpose.

Tell us about your latest series?

Mr Raja Changez Sultan With His Recent Work ‘The Wood Nymphs’ (2018)

The latest one is Crucifixion of Eve. I will complete the next three or five paintings in a year or so. I may exhibit them when I have at least forty paintings made. It is a slightly controversial subject so one has to be careful with it; however, it is better to keep doing what you do best.

Photography by Haider Rifaat

By Mahlia Lone

The recent success of the inaugural edition of the Lahore Biennale Foundation (LBF) made the city of Lahore shine and its citizens feel proud and happy. The art work was exhibited at seven historic venues at the Shehr-o-Funn (city of crafts).

One of the main aims of the Biennale is to promote and exhibit art in a way that makes it accessible to the public at large and not just a select group. It was heartening to see that people from all walks of life attended this event and curiously appreciated the art works on display, for example the breathtaking and awe-inspiring site-specific contemporary art installations. Qudsia Rahim, director of LBF, explained: “Some of these engage with the idea of nature, others work with Lahore’s layered history and diverse geography, while others allow chances for us to take control of our own narratives.”

We look forward to its next edition after two years. Bravo team LBF!

Shahzia Sikander’s audio-video installation Disruption as Rapture with voice over provided by Ali Sethi, at the Summer Palace, Lahore Fort. Photography Atif Saeed

Imran Qureshi at work on his new series of paintings made especially for the Lahore Biennale 01. Photography Hammad Gilani

Imran Qureshi’s breath-takingly beautiful  site-specific fibre optic installation Idea of Landscape, highlighting the artificiality of the landscape now, at the Summer Palace. Photography Atif Saeed

Aisha Khalid meticulously used hundreds of thousands of commom pins to produce the carpet titled More Beautiful for Having Been Broken displayed at the Shahi Hammam. Photography Atif Saeed

Noor Ali Chagani’s Brick Installation dealing with the immense pressure on a man to build a house and provide the income to run it for his family, at Bagh-e-Jinnah. Photography Usman Saqib Zuberi

Bani Abidi’s Memorial to Lost Words displayed at the Lahore Museum. Photography Atif Saeed

Aisha Khalid’s mirrored  installation effectively and effortlessly shows what the Shahi Hammam must have looked like when it was functioning

Iftikhar Dadi and Elizabeth Dadi’s Roz o Shab 2018, neon light installation, at the Summer Palace. Photography Usman Saqib Zuberi

Qudsia Rahim, director of LBF

Ahmer Farooq’s bold and vibrant art can best be described as sweetly chaotic. There’s a reflection of cubism at the foundation of his compositions as well as a straining towards a purity of line. One senses an urge for freedom throughout his oeuvre. Ahmer speaks to Afshan Shafi about the finer points of his practice

Please tell us about your background as an artist and your education in this regard.

I honed my artistic and creative skills through formal and semi-formal trainings. I completed my basic art education from Bedford Modern School and continued on to develop my broader professional skills with a MBA from Imperial College.

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

I love Sadequain, Picasso and Anish Kapoor though I think as an artist I can chart my influence and inspirations from anything and everyone.

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

I believe life is too short and one should live each day to the fullest. For me every day holds the possibility of a life changing experience. This is the beauty of life.

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

I am attached to all of my art work. For me my creations are like my children. The way a mother nourishes her child with love and care, an artist nourishes his craft. I usually spend a month on each painting and it’s a very natural thing to get attached to each and every piece. Though there are some paintings that are like disobedient children who they don’t listen to you. You get annoyed at them sometimes but still love them dearly as they are yours.

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

I’ll rather travel to the future. I would love to see what artists are creating in the future and then come back to the present and produce it now. That would be fun!

What is your dream project?

I would love to show my work at the Tate Modern in London, especially in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall. That place really is a dream come true.

What work of art do you wish you owned?

Though I am not really an art collector but, if I could, I would love to own Sunflowers by Van Gogh.

Whose portrait would you love to make?

My own! I hope I don’t sound like too much of a narcissist. But I would love to do a self portrait. It would be interesting to see how I paint myself.

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

Picasso would be my ultimate choice.

What memorable responses have you had to your work?

At one of my solo shows, this lady came up to me and asked, “Did you paint all of these paintings yourself?” I was speechless.

What are you working on as a future project?

I have a few projects in the pipe line. This year I have a few shows lined up in Pakistan and abroad. I am also collaborating with an interior designer in the United Kingdom. He will use my art work on a limited collection of furniture.

All the paintings are from Farooq’s upcoming show called Forbidden Love at the Sanat Gallery, Karachi, in August

Award winning architect Attiq Ahmed, an alumnus of the NCA, got his Masters degree from Columbia University in Urban Design before returning home to Lahore. Here he set up his architectural, engineering  and design boutique firm AEDL as well as Turning Tables, a furniture and lighting studio.not only does Attiq design buildings and interiors but also the furniture and lighting fixtures that go within, creating a truly integrated space. 

Shortlisted for the International Design & Architecture Awards 2017 in London and co-winner in the Young Talent category at the 13th annual Elle Décor International Design Awards (EDIDA) in India, the multi faceted architect is a design powerhouse. Attiq shares with Fatima Sheikh the ins and outs of design

Take us through your professional journey.

The journey began when I moved home from New York and set up office in 2004. Since then our office has grown from an architectural design studio to a multi-disciplinary design practice. I couldn’t be more pleased with the result.

Tell us about your design aesthetic?




What would you call your design style? 

Effortless and elegant (at the risk of sounding too pretentious)

Architecture, furniture and art merge in your work. Elaborate?

Design is a way of thinking; these are all interconnected facets of that thought process. It’s only natural that they would merge.

What’s your pet peeve that you see often done here?

Aggressive ornamentation and a relentless desire to become Dubai at the cost of our own identity.

A house in Lahore, the design studio produced both the architecural space and did the interior and product design
Photo courtesy: Faisal Farooqui

“(My Pet Peeve is) aggressive ornamentation and A relentless desire to become Dubai at the cost of our own identity”

How has your business evolved?

The business really began to evolve after a design commission from Samina Rahman and her son Zaki. It was the first house that I feel was aesthetically true to our office’s design outlook and it was very popular with people in the city.

Tell us about your fussiest client?

I once had the misfortune of working with someone who wanted an H plan house because she was slightly enthusiastic about Hermes.

Which project have you particularly enjoyed doing? 

A house for Taimur Rafique and his wife Insha Bukhari. Also, Samina Rahman’s house before that

Which has been your most ambitious project to date?

The proposal for building a wall-like building around Lahore’s old city to solve its space problems.

What are you most proud of?

The design for my own residence. It was a struggle in more ways than one and I am relieved I didn’t do a bad job.

A courtryard for a house in Lahore, using concrete and marble on the floor and red bricks on the walls–this project was realised in a historic 1950s property taking design cues for the new architecture from the old house
Photo courtesy: Attiq Ahmed
An arboretum or green house designed for a house in Lahore features large ficus trees and custom made aluminium screens.
Photo courtesy: Ahmad Tahir

What are you working on currently?

Designs for both public institutions and private residences are currently on our drawing board.

What are the latest trends and techniques in the furniture market? 

We believe in aesthetic elitism for all. Cane!

“I once had the misfortune of working with someone who wanted an H plan house because she was slightly enthusiastic about Hermes”

What are some points people should consider when doing up their homes/offices?

Scale, proportion and appropriate space allocation should be considered initially.

Furniture made by Attiq’s design studio Turning Tables for an interior he designed in Lahore

Whose home/place of business would you love to do up the most?

So far, I have had the fortune of working with everyone I would have liked to, but I’m always open to more.

How are men and women different as clients?

Women know what they want, but someone needs to pay for it.

All furniture for this interior in Lahore was designed and made by Attiq’s furniture design practice Turning Tables
For this light filled house in Lahore, Attiq’s office made all the furniture seen in this image and did the architecture as well
Attiq’s office designed this bathroom for a house in Lahore using a bespoke mosaic marble floor that is inspired by traditional Hunza carpets
Photos courtesy: Faisal Farooqui

Describe yourself in three word? 

wtf–three initials I suppose

Describe your passion in three words?

It consumes me!

Favourite quote about style?

“More is a bore.” —Anonymous


Canadian abstract/figurative artist, Tyler Tilley has an uncanny ability to capture raw emotions and unconscious thoughts and even paint the impossibly difficult moment of self-destruction. He believes artwork is a personal currency. hailing from Toronto where he got a degree in PR but currently residing in Bangkok, he entered the Art world as a professional in his twenties out of sheer love. When creating expressionistic abstract, much of his energy stems from combining the present moment with his eclectic past: addiction and recovery, amateur boxing, teaching in China…and the list goes on. Tyler takes Sana Zehra through his  journey of raw emotions and expressive art

Icon series

Tell our readers about yourself Tyler? Where do you draw your energy from and what inspires you?

It’s been a long, long road. I’ve invested everything I have into this insane passion, obsession of mine. It’s both my curse and gift. I am usually lost most hours of the day. Lost in the sense that I push everything aside so I can focus on mastering my craft and losing myself in the process. Ideas pour in constantly. I’ve learned to incubate the good ideas and let the others slide. Then, I sort through my choice concepts and determine which ones I want to actually pursue. Ideas come from everywhere. I am super stimulated being in Bangkok, Thailand, for sure. I eat up the insanity and find a way to put it on the canvas.

What genre(s) do you work in?

Currently, I’m focusing on my figurative work. Whether it’s online tutorials or criticism from other artists, I’m constantly studying techniques. I feel like I’ve created and enlisted in my own little private university—considering I am self-taught. But I made a name for myself in Canada with large scale abstract.

The dragon’s nightmare
Red balloon

What moves you most in life?

I feel really blessed that I discovered such an unshakable lust for art. It’s what I will be doing ‘till the day I die. Finding this treasure is a big deal considering most people have no idea what they want to do with this life. So that pushes me big time.

Out of all your work which work do you like the most?

Still searching. But I like my subconscious collage work. I’ve even referred to it as Acid Art. It’s like being on a hard-core trip or at the very least, another dimension. But I do attempt at balancing out each piece. Making sure it has both the beautiful and the ugly. I named the ongoing series both Your Memories Are Lies, and The Waiting Room. Also, I feel fulfilled when I complete a portrait, since they typically take the longest.

Painted skulls

Client: “Can we see if this (painting) will match my carpet and couch?”
Artist cringes

How do you set the background of your figures? There is often a juxtaposition seen in your portraits is that intentional?

I take a lot of photos actually. Usually when I shoot, the idea is it will end up as a painting or some of the subjects will end up in a painting. Or, at the other end of the spectrum, I just pick up a brush and start creating. A clean canvas doesn’t last long in my studio. I suppose to answer you more directly, unintentionally I guess, ha.

1 live round series

If you were to make a sculpture or a painting of yourself, what would it look like?

Lately I’ve found myself painting human skull molds or skull casts. As I think to myself, this could be the closest attempt to a self-portrait that I have done as of late. The skulls obviously represent “death” but I typically painted them in polka-a-dots or fill them with rainbow like colours. Again, I’m trying the balance the ideas of life and death or ugly and beautiful.


Do any of your paintings have a deeper meaning? If yes, what are they?

Yes, deeper meanings and personal stories are always involved. Only because this is all I do. So, it’s easier to put pieces together when I look back on the work I’ve done. My work is very close to a diary. The work makes more sense when it’s reviewed or in retrospect. I can see so much of myself in the completed work. Specifically, with subject matter and concepts. But the meanings and stories vary significantly.

sons of monarchy

What is your most favourite piece of work and why?

Seems to always be the piece I have just finished. Only because it took everything from me—I am serious. Back to the gift and curse.

What do you feel when you let your emotions let loose on canvas?

Abstract art is the best for this. Music brings out some awesome momentum and keeps me engaged. After a good ol’ fight with your partner or someone close to you, there is nothing like spraying a canvas with nothing but pure raw emotion. It’s beyond gratifying plus there is something to show directly linked to an emotion.

Artist Tyler Tilley Raising Colour photo credit: Tara Noelle

Who are your role models as an artist and why?

Love artists that travel and see the world. I feel like they have more stories to tell through their work. I have a long, long list of people that inspire me to be honest. I tend to gravitate to people that hustle. They’re dedication really moves me. Though, my family are my role models and heroes.

Raising Colour is Tilley’s signature series and has taken over four years to create. This body of work is best described as a cross section of emotions and experiences leading up to this point in his life. Like a catalogue of personal history, the myriad of colours reflects the mindscape of the artist as he paints. The application of epoxy resin between layers elevates different sections off the two-dimensional plane—allowing the audience to dissect the work by looking within and through the painting, the same can be done to the individual. Within every piece, each colour represents an emotion; each layer a significant moment and each work a window into the artist.

Does living and working in Bangkok and travelling back and forth to Lao influence your work at all?

Yes, for sure. Bangkok is just plain nuts. It’s so foreign and so upside down that all I can do is pull from it. Love also found me here in Bangkok. Laos is just a retreat from Bangkok, ha.

your memories are lies vi
painted skull

What’s a typical day like for you?

Painting. Boring answer, I know. Usually I paint usually 8-10 hours a day. I lock myself in my studio and generally have to force myself to eat; though, I am getting kind of fat, not sure how that works. Sometimes I sit so long I get haemorrhoids— I’m not joking. At times, it is complete solace and other days it’s just too much.

What is the worst question that you’ve ever been asked about your work?

Can we see if this (painting) will match my carpet and couch?

Do you plan on branching out and opening a gallery in Pakistan?

Would be honoured. I typically go where the wind takes me anyway. Really, if I am well received, I’d go anywhere. But not so much interested in opening a gallery as much as I would be in finding a gallery that loves my work.

If someone in Pakistan is interested in purchasing your work how should they contact, you?

Definitely follow my Instagram. I always post my latest there: @tylertilleylovesyou or shoot me an email: [email protected].

My website is www.tylertilley.com

Any messages for upcoming artists?

Do something with your life!!! Put all your eggs in one basket. Life’s a story, truly. At the end, if you had to watch a movie of your life, would it be boring or award winning? Your choice.

If Roses were blue

Karachi based visual artist and writer, Imrana Tanveer’s work incorporates weaving and textiles, and appropriates iconic images from both Western and Pakistani art and culture to address social and political issues. There’s a sense of vivid engagement with history in Tanveer’s oeuvre with a perspective that is both yielding and stark.

Tanveer’s first solo show was featured in the top 10 solo and retrospective exhibitions of 2013 by Islamic Art Magazine. She has been shortlisted and featured in the Golden 15 award category of the International Emerging Artist Award hosted by Sabrina Amrani Gallery, Dubai; She is also the winner of IEAA 2016 awards exhibition in Brussels, Belgium. Her work is part of the renowned collections of British High Commission, Islamabad, Amin Gulgee Gallery, Karachi, and Lerimonti Gallery, USA, to name but a few.  Imrana shares her vision with Afshan Shafi Please tell us about your background as an artist and your education in this regard.

I graduated from the Textile Institute of Pakistan, Karachi as a textile designer in 2008 and started working in the denim industry. Those one and half years were literally and psychologically “blue” for me. Working with mostly/only in shades of blue and being restricted creatively and denied the ability to design at your own pace was very disturbing. I eventually quit my job and moved forward to pursue my creative desires by enrolling  in a Visual Arts Master’s program in 2010 at the National College of Arts (NCA), Lahore, as suggested by my husband.

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

Those would be Vincent Van Gogh, Yinka Shinabore, Ruby Chishti, Risham Saeed, Anish Kapoor, Ai Weiwei, Yayoi Kusama and Do-Ho Suh.

Blue of the War Sky, paper and thread, 94×50 inches approx, 2016

I See a Premonition (61), 102×75 cms, inkjet print on artpaper and zari thread, 2016

 Kiss of Love, 102×66 cms, inkjet print on artpaper and cotton thread, 2014

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

I think as life moves on an artist’s inspirations and experiences change too. Quitting my job in 2010 and joining the NCA was phenomenal and since then I’ve been creating constantly and that creativity is shaping my life. Having a design background and joining art school was a very difficult experience. Those two years of studies were critical, as well as helpful in developing and polishing the artist in me.

I See a Premonition (64), 102×75 cms, inkjet print on artpaper and zari thread, 2016

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

Well this is a bit like asking a mother who her favourite child is. My work is really dear to me but my most favorite creation is Post Betrayal. This is an installation canopy from my thesis work, which evolved and formed after I purchased the camouflage fabric. The market from which I bought the fabric used these canopies for shelter from the sun and to cover goods on trucks in bad weather conditions during transportation. The parachute camouflage is also used for tents. I wanted to use that canopy and replicate the process of punching holes in it by repeating the process of punching rivets numerous times. These thousands of small metallic rivets punched on the camouflage tent represent bullet holes.

The premise of the work is as follows: the purpose of the tent is to protect and provide shelter and the rivet is used to strengthen it, but by overdoing the punching, it represents our own behaviour and attitude towards the safety of the state and borders.

Post Betrayal, Metallic Rivets on Parachute and Nylon Lace,120×144 inches, 2012 (Photo Credit, Aly Naqvi)

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

I’m really fond of many Art Movements. Some really inspire me and I have appropriated many masterpieces from different Art Movements (e.g. Pop Art, Classical, Renaissance etc.) in my works. And sometimes I just flip through art books and delight my eyes in going through the history of the Arts.

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

I would like to see Van Gogh painting Starry Night, Michelangelo sculpting Pieta and Bosch painting The Garden of Earthly Delights. I want to travel many eras…to me art history contains a wealth of visual stories and inspires artists on many imaginative and intellectual levels.

What is your dream project?

Right now I’m thinking and dreaming of large scale public installations. I’m also dreaming of incorporating the Empire State Building and Guggenheim Museum in my work.

What work of art do you wish you owned?
I would love to own Van Gogh’s Starry Night of course, Jan Van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait, Hokusai’s Great Wave and Pieter Brueghel’s The Procession to Calvary.

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

I would like to collaborate with Zaha Hadid, Peter Paul Ruben, Imran Qureshi, Van Gogh, Ai Weiwei and Cai Guo-Qiang

What memorable responses have you had to your work?

My work has received usually positive and welcoming responses. I loved the response of my last two installations at the Taseer Art Gallery and Sanat Art Gallery in 2016. At TAG, I filled the entire gallery floor with rose petals and allowed visitors to feel and experience the sensational installation. While at Sanat the gallery was covered with thermocol balls, which represented the beauty that has been lost in the brutal past, and that can only be remembered through a glimpse of visual delights.
Other than that my first solo exhibition titled I Saw Two Crows Building a Nest under His Hat was considered one of TOP 10 exhibitions of 2013 in line with Monir Farmanfarmaian, Reza Derakshani, Rana Begum and Maïmouna Guerresi, etc.

Status Quo Ante, 40 x 54 inches (approx),  Paper and Thread, 2014

Roses were Blue (edition of 25), 16 x 14 inches approx, Paper and Thread, 2014

Roses were Blue, Installation, rose petals on floor, 2016

What are you working on as a future project?

I feel like the “future” is a myth. I’m living in the present and producing work for a few exhibitions in line. I’m also in the process of shifting and organizing my studio space at the moment.

Zahrah Ehsan’s artistry is a decorous and bold treat for the eyes. There’s an overwhelming rutilance to her surfaces that lends her work the quality of dream-scape. The carnaval-esque palette and immersion into fantastical themes absorb the viewer completely at first impression. The fantastic luminosity of her canvases often carry messages that are feminist and self-interrogatory in nature. The beautiful tumult of colour serves as a prelude to the truth, often dark, enclosed within. Zahrah spoke to Afshan Shafi about her journey as an artist and of the creative visionaries that inspire her.

Please tell us about your background as an artist and your education in this regard.

I think I always knew that I would end up becoming an artist/painter, but was not really sure until I had a life changing ten minute conversation with my former O Level teacher, Farwa Tahir a day before my Art exam. During my time in Lahore Grammar School, I was fortunate to have teachers like her and Murad Khan Mumtaz as my O and A Level teachers respectively, who dedicated their time and saw the potential in me. Later I joined the National College of Arts, where I came across a diversity not only in terms of competent teachers, but also in terms of peers. I graduated with a Bachelors in Fine Arts majoring in Painting, and securing an honour for my thesis project. Both during and after my intensive incubatory training at the institution, I was able to undertake several exhibitions, projects and other similar enterprises. I think going to NCA was the best decision of my life.



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

I do not think I can ever limit myself to just a couple of favourites. As I was trained to self-reflect during the process of my work, I developed a habit of looking at artists coming from different disciplines and not just looking, but also reading about them and their inspirations. There is an exhausting long list of both local and international artists that I believe have influenced my way of thinking. To name a few Krzysztof Wodiczko, Edward Hopper, Jeff Wall, Pipilotti Rist, Iqra Tanveer, Alex Katz, Rachel Whiteread, Dan Flavin, Huma Mulji, Rene Magritte…the list is never ending.

What’s integral to the work of an artist?

For an artist, there should be an innate understanding in making sure that your work is reflecting a marriage between research and skill. The artist’s work will speak in volumes only when the artist himself/herself is well informed about his/her work and is not shying away from the transformations that are taking place in the process.

Learning to Mow


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

I guess that was when my work began to criticise the commodified types of women’s roles in modern society. I realised this when I made my pink and blue dream-like paintings with plastic baby tub stuck on them in 3rd year of college, along with a video that was hugely inspired by a parody video and performance piece, Semiotics of the Kitchen by Martha Rosler, and also similar to Salima Hashmi’s 70’s segment called Handa Hubaalna from the show Taal Matol.

What themes do you pursue?

My work hearkens back to that sense of longing for what is perhaps, unattainable. Teacups, the colour pink and dollhouses act as a metaphor for the ideals that the protagonist in my images holds, all of which are somewhat unreal. These are figments of an overheated imagination. I am obsessed with the notion of childhood dreams shattering as we grow older. To attain the ‘happiness’ that girls are told to wait for; the ‘happiness’ that they are promised while they pour tea into their doll’s tea cup.


What’s your ultimate, favourite art work?

My ultimate favourite art work has to be Rene Magritte’s The Tempest. The strange, yet subtle arrangement of ordinary objects shown in the painting will never seize to amaze me.

How has your practice change over time?

I think my practice has only improved over time, and the more committed I am to this course of life the better it gets. It is almost addictive, if I count the years of practice that started when I was a student and decided to display works outside college. It has been a little over a year since I have gotten a studio after graduating three years ago, and there is no going back. According to a dear friend, this studio has given me a good show. I am waiting what else it brings out in me. Looking forward to the challenges ahead.


What superpower would you have and why?

I would love to enter all these paintings of artists like Hieronymous Bosch, Magritte, Edouard Vuillard and experience what’s happening inside the canvas that only shows us one perspective in its two dimentionality. Haha, something very similar to how Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck enter Munch’s Scream in the movie Space Jam and turn into that screaming man, or start melting when they enter Dali’s painting, The Persistence of Memory.

Name something you love and why?

The beach! I love the sound and the view of the waves crashing on the beach and how it naturally reflects the sky. The beach is the best place to have real conversations.

Name something you don’t love and why?

Clutter is something that I can bear with, but I loathe things lying around. The kind of routine that I have, I am not able to keep my room and studio clean at all times. But when I do, my studio mates are also unfortunately caught in the storm.

Shooting Wildflower A Hefty Price

I am obsessed with the notion of childhood dreams shattering as
we grow older. To attain the ‘happiness’ that girls are told
to wait for; the ‘happiness’ that they are promised while
they pour tea into their doll’s tea cup

What is your dream project?

I would want to create an experiential party like setting in a given gallery space and would want to be there as a host, rather than as an artist displaying works. And no, I am not talking about the kind you saw in Alice in Wonderland. This is something that I am still working on.

Name three artists you’d like to be compared to.

Edward Hopper, Rene Magritte and Gerhard Richter.

What work of art do you wish you owned?

Infinity Mirrored Room – The Souls of Millions of Lightyears Away by Yayoi Kusama.

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

I think I would be happy to collaborate with this Canadian artist, Jeff Wall. I have always been drawn to his staged photographs like The Destroyed Room and Mimic. I like how his photograph’s compositions are cinematographic and relatable at the same time.

What is an artistic outlook on life?

For me an artistic outlook on life simply means to acknowledge and embrace the highs and lows of your artistic journey, and to accept that an artist’s work makes them who they are and tells them where they stand.

What under-appreciated artist, gallery, or work do you think people should know about?

Leonora Carrington, a member of the surrealist movement, is well known as Max Ernst’s wife. I think she is one of the many under-appreciated women artists in the art world. I find her dreamlike, highly detailed fantastical paintings along with her life story extraordinary.

What’s your favourite thing you’ve ever created?

That is a tough one as all of my works are an outcome of a more personal struggle. But recently, one of my four new works that were shown at Canvas Gallery, Karachi, with the title Monologue is currently very close to my heart.

Which creative medium would you love to pursue but haven’t yet?

As for now, I have attempted almost all kinds of mediums that I was familiarised with in college, but I believe I have not been fully able to explore installations.

What memorable responses have you had to your work?

I remember my former A levels teacher, Murad Khan Mumtaz coming in as an external juror to NCA for a painting critique and mentioning how my painting was ‘well painted’, which was very unlike him. Similarly, I have had many other accomplished teachers, like Quddus Mirza, R. M. Naeem and Mariam Hussain, appreciating my work and their responses have really directed me to be more consistent with my practise.

Favourite or most inspirational place?

I do not think I have an inspirational place in particular. Any place can inspire me as long as I it can host art, music and conversation.

What are you working on as a future project?

I am working for a solo show at the moment. Details of the show will be disclosed soon.

Fine Art photography is a genre of art that is notoriously hard to master. Caught between a painterly ethic and an intent to expose truth, most practitioners falter and produce work that seems inauthentic. The artist/photographer Soofia Mahmood is free of such travails for her work is richly and profoundly emotive. Her images feature  mostly women as subjects and are often unutterably dark yet beautiful. Each image is a meditation on the possibilities of freedom and of the profound vulnerability of women in our society. In some of her work, she has used her own figure as a motif to confront the power and irresolution of societal impulses. A photograph that embodies most of her themes is entitled People I met, which  presents a crystalline background with a twine of butterflies in the foreground of the image. These winged creatures have been captured in motion yet are transfixed by an impossible ennui, an impossible stillness. This dichotomy of captivity and release, finds expression in most of her corpus of work. Soofia tells Afshan Shafi about her metaphorical and unnerving collection of images

How long has photography been a hobby and career of yours and what motivated you to get started?

I bought my first camera in 2009. I had left my corporate career in Karachi, my hometown, to be a trailing spouse to my then husband and had followed him to Lahore. Being without work, friends and connections, I found the space to breathe, which initially was scary and depressing. Unfamiliarity in one’s environment tends to make you a little disoriented until you realize that you can survive and even thrive in new circumstances. So I decided to explore my childhood dream of being an artist instead of looking for a job, as we were there for only six months. The confusion in my life helped me  approach photography neither as a hobby nor a career, which was wonderful. I did not make a transaction with art. I just developed an unconditional relationship with the camera.  It changed me and my life in a way I never anticipated.

Kaaley Kawway, 2014
Kaaley Kawway, 2014

I did not make a transaction with art. I just developed an unconditional relationship with the camera.  It changed me and my life in a way I never anticipated

When did you start taking photos? What made you decide to explore photography as a means of artistic expression?

I started taking photos right after I studied the DSLR (digital single-lens reflex camera) menu. My daughter was 3 years old at that time, so she was often my subject. I had the luxury of a chauffeur driven car at that time and Lahore was new to me. The driver we had was the most interesting Lahori character that I have ever met. He saw me fiddling with the camera in the lawn and told me that if I wanted to take photos of the city, he could take me to interesting places. With him, I got out of my sheltered cocoon. We went to akharhaas (local wrestler’s gyms) in old Lahore where his friendship with pehlwans (wrestlers) allowed a woman to step inside and photograph them. I went to a small, dark house where they were making kites illegally for basant. I went to the farthest corner of the canal and to Heera Mandi (Lahore’s historic red light district). A series started to develop. I called it Romancing Lahore. A pair of red heels bought from the Landaa Bazaar (thrift market) that he had taken me to travelled with us everywhere and was a prop in all my Lahore photos. They were not brilliant photographs as I was just learning the skill, but naturally I was drawn to concepts and props from the start. Just taking photos of the scenes around me was not satisfying for me. I added how I connected to the scene. The red heels with two pehlwans fighting in the background put me in the picture, discovering Lahore. This was much before I started doing self-portraiture. I did not plan anything, which was the beauty of it all, and it led me to explore photography as a medium of art and not documentation.

Who are your favourite photographers and what influence have they had upon your work?

I don’t really have favourite photographers. Photography as a medium of art is not that developed and remains largely shallow. I do have some favourite artists that inspire me. I am in love with Salvador Dali. His work is brilliant, but more so, his entire being embodied his art. His eccentricity depicts the fearlessness one needs to produce crude, crass and bold work that speaks the truth on so many levels and is not visible to many. I enjoyed the photographic series Philippe Halsman created in collaboration, Dali Atomicus. I also enjoy the still and moving work of Shireen Nishaat as the subject of her work is close to my heart.

Khizaan, 2014 This was taken the day my daughter was diagnosed with epilepsy and i was struggling to accept it
Khizaan, 2014 This was taken the day my daughter was diagnosed with epilepsy and i was struggling to accept it
Romancing Lahore - 2010 This was my first series as  an amateur photographer
Romancing Lahore – 2010 This was my first series as an amateur photographer
Symmetry, 2015
Symmetry, 2015

Do you think talent for photography is something a person is born with?

I think every human being is born with the innate capacity to see life from a unique perspective. It is that perspective that is important to be artist of any medium. Over time, one’s life experiences either make you deepen that perspective or lose it entirely. Anyone can learn the skills. Everyone cannot have the sight. Photography especially is much easier to learn than any other medium. In this digital age, all you need is a DSLR and a Facebook page to call yourself a photographer. On the one hand, it is wonderful to see how this medium is accessible. On the other, it is diluting the possibility of photography being considered ‘art’ seriously. It is so easy to be lost in the romance of gadgetry that I feel this medium as a form of art does not get the respect, love, depth and hard work it deserves.

I have fought so much that I left a marriage, wrote articles after articles against the Sharia law, shaved my head, always wore clothes considered inappropriate and said things not suitable by the social standards

Where do you get your ideas? What predominant themes do you explore in your work?

My work is all about me: my emotions, life experiences, my skeletons in the closet, my beauty, my ugliness, my opinions and my truth. My self-portraiture journey started when I decided to leave my first husband. I used the medium to admit my raw emotions to myself to begin with and give them a representation in the form of light. When people started connecting with me to share with me how my work is impacting them, that is when I decided to continue to work and that my opinions and emotions matter to others.

The irony of organized religion, or the way a woman is perceived by herself and the society are themes often depicted in my work. These ideas are not coming from an ‘activist’ mindset. These are coming from my personal conflicts, experiences and situations I have dealt with and am still dealing with.

What do you feel is the most challenging thing about photographing what you do?

Being in front of the camera is the most challenging part of my work. I do not like being photographed generally. The only reason I started doing self-portraiture was because I was doing an art residency in Thailand, where I was again as a trailing spouse. I was given a tiny studio with glass walls to work in. It was an aquarium where people could watch you create your work. I had an emotion, leading to an idea and I had me, so I initiated. Over time, as the series developed, I started feeling differently in front of the camera. I wasn’t me; I was an idea, a concept and a subject. The challenging part is, it limits me sometimes in certain concepts (if only I was a contortionist). It has also spoiled me, as I am now used to working alone being behind and in front of the camera at the same time for so long.

I am withered, from the series Forgive Me, 2012
I am withered, from the series Forgive Me, 2012
Chooriyaan, 2013
Chooriyaan, 2013
Highlighter from Project Small, 2016
Highlighter from Project Small, 2016
People I Met, 2010
People I Met, 2010

Your work tackles issues of an overtly feminist nature. Please tell us more about your work in this regard and the response which these pieces have received.

I am a woman; I am a woman rebellious by Pakistani standards. I fought my family as a young girl, the society when I stepped out of the house, and all the stereotypes that have come my way. I have fought so much that I left a marriage, wrote articles after articles against the Sharia law, shaved my head, always wore clothes considered inappropriate and said things not suitable by social standards. I have fought so much that I am tired. The only fight left in me now is to express my opinions in my art without any fear of judgment.

I am a human being free of imposed gender standards and I do not accept any other treatment from the law or the society. That is what my work is about.

I have received mixed responses. From women, I receive mostly positive responses. Even if they cannot articulate their opinion, they bond with me over my work, like they know, and they agree, but won’t say it. I have received lecherous comments from men and colleagues, who thought my work invited men to harass me, especially when I was a single mother. I have received threats for being inappropriate. I have received love and commendation from people I respect and adore. It has been amazing in all honesty.

What work do you do on your photos to achieve the dark effect that so many of your fine art photos have?

I chuckled a bit after reading this question. I love to play with light. Most of my work is done with artificial lighting because I can control it to achieve the strong contrast that is my style. A lot of people assume that my work is the product of digital manipulation. It is not usually, unless the concept is designed that way. For me the thrill of the craft is creating a photograph with lights. Post production is a process that you use according to your concept. The raw product has to be well thought out and planned for it to go through the desired post process and deliver on its intent.

Bahaar, 2012
Bahaar, 2012

If you could photograph anyone in the world, without limitations, who would you choose and how would you shoot them?

I would love to photograph people with multiple personality disorders. I would give their multiple personalities tangible depictions. I would show the interaction of their multiple personalities with each other and with the world.

I would love to photograph the jhallee (homeless) woman who used to roam the streets of Islamabad and ate from the same bowl as the stray dogs that surrounded her.

I would love to photograph any woman who is willing to depict her truth without definition of the society or religion. Anyone who would risk breaking stereotypes self-imposed or otherwise and allows me to create her alternate reality.

Please tell us how you were inspired to create your latest work?

I have recently immigrated to Canada, after fighting with the system for making me my daughter’s legal guardian. I gave up on Pakistan and left. Here, I am struggling financially and emotionally without any reference to my history. My latest work is about surviving this phase and dealing with the emotions as a new immigrant. It is called Project Small as I am living in a tiny studio apartment with my daughter and husband. I do not have any props or studio gear or the money to afford it. After struggling for a few months, I decided to start creating work in the same small living space with no additional cost on props. The work is a mix so far from being about the mundane, which as an immigrant is also a novelty in the new environment, to being about much deeper self-introspection. Some pieces are just angry retorts to the stereotypes I come across, mostly from the Pakistani community based here. I hope in the coming months, it would take some direction, depending on where life takes me.

What are a few pieces of advice you find yourself offering most frequently to aspiring or emerging photographers?

Connect your craft to yourself and give the medium the respect any artist would give to his/her tools. And don’t just take photos, make them.

If you had to pick one series as your favourite, which would it be and why?

Forgive Me is my favorite series to date. It reflects a major turning point in my life when I relinquished the guilt I was still carrying as a woman, the guilt of being a bad wife who left, the guilt of being a bad mother for leaving her father, the guilt of being a bad Muslim for not agreeing to abide, the guilt of not being thin enough, or young enough or beautiful enough, the guilt of not being a man. It was a heavy burden that would make me second guess myself often and depicted my own hypocrisy of fighting for my rights while feeling guilty at the same time.  I let go and that series represents that. Everyone changes with time, but some changes are more drastic. This one was a drastic change that made me different, a different that I finally liked.

Australia based artist Nazia Ejaz’s work is current and thoroughly expressive on many levels and touches upon relevant queries regarding identity and culture in an expatriate lifestyle. She talks to Saba Ahmed about her art, life in Australia and her mother Madam Nur Jehan’s influence on her

What influences drive your work?

Two distinct narrative threads run through my work: one is my response to my lived experience and another parallel one is about the exploration of the medium and engagement with global art discourse. I think that both investigations work side by side. On the one hand, you can engage with your emotions and everything that’s happening around you and try and interpret that through your work, the conceptual matter. On another level, I try to engage with what’s happening in the art world today. The materials that I use and their limitations and the way I test those limitations informs my work as well. I think both aspects are very important and interesting to me and they keep me engaged, the conceptual and the material.

How do you decide between mediums, such as paintings and installations and what informs your decisions?

I really enjoy the idea of working between mediums. In fact, the work itself is about being in between. The conceptual premise of the work is about being inside and outside. If you’re inside something, then you’re outside something else. The fact that my work moves between mediums also fits in with the concept and it doesn’t limit itself to any specific medium like sculpture or painting. I’ll photograph something and then I’ll paint it and then take a photograph of that painting and then I’ll do something else with it. As far as the medium is concerned, my choices fit in with what I’m thinking about conceptually as well. That’s what I find interesting at the moment.



My love for Lahore I think is connected to my relationship with my mum (Madam Nur Jehan). She’s not the focal point of my work but she’s linked to everything that influences it. We’ve always had eyes on us being so and so’s children and this perspective is something that I’ll be looking into for a long time through my work

Which mediums do you most commonly work with?

The jaali (screen) is what has inspired these paintings. The jaali was in turn inspired by some paintings I had done earlier. So, you see, the work moves back and forth. I use materials that are at my disposal and use whichever medium I feel like working with at that time. It keeps me interested in the work. More recently, the screen has translated into grids and patterns, which I’ve used metaphorically in the three wall paintings in my most recent show.

Apart from traditional mediums, like photography, painting and sculpture, I use things such as plastics and mirrors, and light and shadow. I plan to use mirrors in future works, because mirrors are also about here and there and I enjoy playing around with the philosophical implications of that.

Tell us more about the jaali and being the ‘other’.

The installation of the jaali fits in with my concept of the experience of our environment. I feel that the experience of our environment is a mediated experience in so many aspects of our life, whether it’s gender, nationality or religious affiliation. And to anything that is different, we respond through these affiliations. So the jaali is almost like a screen which is there almost all of the time, especially in our interactions with other people. Being ‘the other’ myself, living in Australia and coming back to visit Pakistan, where I’ve lived away from for 11 years and before that for 4 years when I was away at college, I find that I’m very deeply rooted within this society, but at the same time I’ve always been on the outside of it.



The jaali is multipurpose and, in my work, it also refers to how sometimes truth or reality can get covered up deliberately or sometimes unwittingly. The jaali is also used extensively in Islamic architecture. Throughout South Asia, you can see it used as a shield. I’ve used that as a metaphor for talking about separation. It also directs the gaze, making it an interesting metaphor with which to work. At the end of the day, it’s about the shifting perspectives, because everything depends on which side of the jaali you are on, either you’re inside or you’re outside and, on both sides, the perspective is very different. It becomes a major concern when you come across it all the time. Once you start realising that, you begin to notice it everywhere and in everything. It’s not other people but it’s your own personal journey and how you respond to these situations that determines who you are. That has been a main area of investigation for me.

What time of the day do you like to work?

Well, I’m a mother of two, which means that apart from taking care of my children, I work all the time. When you’re younger and single, you have the luxury of choosing what time of the day you work as opposed to when you have children you work at whatever time is available to you. I do like to paint during the day because I need natural light, so I’ve got to work around my children, especially since I live abroad and don’t have the support system that we do back home. When my kids are at school, I paint and do other work while they’re asleep.

Jaali 2


How is your work received differently in  Pakistan and abroad?

The work was very well received in Australia. Obviously it takes time for people there to understand the metaphorical implications, but there are people there that can engage with the work. Where I exhibited was a non commercial hub of galleries and is frequented by a number of people that are connected to the art world and already engage with art, art history and what’s happening now in the contemporary art scene. It’s not difficult for them to take in the symbolism in my work. However, some of them are not well versed in Indo-Islamic art history where some of the features of my work are coming from. But thankfully so far I’ve received a good response.

Lahore is home territory for me and it was really important for my colleagues in Lahore to see my work as well. It’s a lovely feeling. The responsiveness of the art world and the community that was present and supportive was heartening.

What role did your mother (Madam Nur Jehan) play in your art?

She always encouraged whatever I did and she was always an inspiration for me in terms of her attitude towards my work. My sisters and I are all hard working and that comes from our mother because we’ve seen her work ethic and how hard she worked throughout her life. For me, my work is strongly connected to Lahore and, again for me, Lahore is all about her. My love for Lahore I think is connected to my relationship with my mum. She’s not the focal point of my work but she’s linked to everything that influences it. We’ve always had eyes on us being so and so’s children and this perspective is something that I’ll be looking into for a long time through my work.

Dil Ka Kiya Rang Karoon
In the Shadows
In the Shadows

How do you feel about the current art scene in Pakistan?

Take miniature painting, for example, and the boost it’s gotten from internationally acclaimed artists, such as Shahzia Sikander. Pakistani artists are a force to be reckoned with all over the world. We have so much young creative talent and institutions support it, but I would love to see some support from the government as well. In Australia, a lot of artists would not be able to produce art without the grants they receive. They’re doing non commercial work all through government grants or public artwork commissions.

I recently saw that fantastic Birdhouse commission outside NCA and I think it’s great. I believe that art belongs in the public domain and would love to see it come out of galleries and be displayed in public spaces. In a gallery, only a select few get to see it. An artist’s job is to think about life and to illustrate it in the way a historian might document it or a writer might interpret it. It becomes richer with interaction because you need the viewer to complete the work.

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