My Space


Ali Xeeshan takes Aimen Khan into his eclectic and vibrant studio

Tell us about the inspiration behind the décor in your studio.

Fashion is getting too commercial these days. There’s no art value or creativity left. My studio is not a commercial space. When you enter my studio, you are taken on a ride. It’s an interesting experience that I’ve always wanted for my clients and visitors. It’s like a home studio, where girls can come in and feel comfortable discussing their bridals. I’ve always wanted my space to be colorful and have character. I didn’t want it to be like other nondescript commercial spaces that feel like grocery shops or hospitals. I’ve collected momentos from all over the world, each one with its own memory and story. My studio talks to you. It’s welcoming that way.

What significance does your studio hold for you and how does it influence your work?

No matter where I travel in the world, I have to come back to my studio because that’s the only spot where I can generate ideas. It’s my comfort zone. It has everything I need. I have different mood lighting, depending on what I’m designing for (runway, brides. etc) so I can see the same product under different lights. It’s very comfortable for me, like my own room, where I can be myself. I don’t feel uncomfortable in any spot in it.




Don’t become a Part of the fashion or media industries because you want to be famous. Stop thinking about what you’ll wear to the red carpet. Do your job first

What’s the favourite part of your studio, what holds the most significance for you?

My favourite place in my studio is definitely my little forest garden with a huge window overlooking it. On some days, I put my table outside and start operating from there, especially in the winter. I’m friends with all the birds. They come every day.

Tell us about the birds. It shows in your work and your studio that they hold a lot of importance for you. 

I have always thought that they’re little angels. I think they just come and keep an eye on what we’re doing. I think birds are the most beautiful forms nature has taken.

Do you approach your work with a specific process?

With me, it’s mostly a mental process and then execution. I like to take my time and evolve the ideas in my mind first. When I’m working on a collection, like I am doing right now for PFDC Sunsilk Fashion Week in March, I first think of a name. The name sets the mood for the collection, which then helps me set the colour palette. We take a lot of time with the colours because I feel like they can make or break the collection. From the colours, I decide what themes or trends I’m going to be following. I then put it all on paper. I have a great design team that helps me execute because I can’t be there every second.

Once everything comes out of production we put different things together and see how they look. I usually work on the collection till the very last moment. Sometimes a model is about to step on the runway and I stop her and say leave this, or take that. It’s a continuous process.

For me, the mood is very important. I like to keep the mood in every piece that I design. There has to be a story. The clothes should speak to you.




I was too loud for some people. They wanted me to calm down but you only get to live life once. Why should I stop on account of other people? Why should I shine less? I can’t be sorry for being fabulous

Do you ever face any creative blocks? If yes, what do you do to get out of them?

Of course! I usually just leave the country or city and go away for a while to clear my mind. It’s always a good idea to step away from the situation for an aerial view so you can easily figure out what can be done better. When I was in fashion school, they always told us to a take a break for a while and when you come back, you’ll easily be able to point out your mistake. So that’s what I do.

Do you have trouble working outside of your space?

Usually, yes. But sometimes when I’m travelling or I’m in a plane or sitting in a restaurant and I get an idea, I just grab my phone, a piece of paper, or even a napkin and draw it on there.

You’re an exceptional painter. Do you see yourself branching into that industry in the future?

I honestly think that art is a pure blessing and gift from your maker. I might get into that but part of me is always reluctant, because I feel like there shouldn’t be a price to art. It feels like giving your baby away. That part of me is stopping me from branching out commercially. I haven’t given much thought to it from a business perspective. Lots of friends and people want to buy my art. I think art is above and beyond that. But who doesn’t mind some extra cash? Ha-ha!




Where do you feel most inspired or creative in the world?

Europe. Probably a train ride from Paris to Amsterdam or Rome, any place that has history and rich culture. Since I grew up in Lahore, I take a lot of inspiration from here, Old Lahore too. It has British Raj history, Mughal influence and also contemporary art. It’s festive and has so much energy. Any place that has character. I’ve never felt inspired in Dubai or Manhattan.

What is your favourite project that you have worked on in the past?

My favourite has yet to come but all my shows, especially shows that I do for PFDC are my favourite because I feel like my brand grew up with PFDC. Their first show was my debut show. Whenever I’m showcasing at PFDC, it has a different feeling altogether. People might think I’m too out there on the runway, but that’s my moment. I work really hard for that moment, so let me enjoy it! I actually never thought I’d dance on the runway but it automatically comes out. I want to dance. We work really hard! You can’t take that away from us. Whenever I come out on the runway to take a bow, that’s my moment.



What are you currently working on?

I’m branching into lawn with Wardha and also working on pret stores. I’m really excited and nervous about that.

Have you hit any barriers in your career that have led you to where you are now?

There were lots of barriers. It’s a cut-throat industry, you’re not easily welcomed but I’ve been lucky that way. People, who were fashionably evolved and open to ideas, could see where I was coming from. Of course there were hardships and barriers. I was too loud for some people. They wanted me to calm down but you only get to live life once. Why should I stop on account of other people? Why should I shine less? I can’t be sorry for being fabulous.

Do you have any words of wisdom or advice for upcoming artists?

I would just say be true to yourself. Look within you. Stop finding your future over the Internet or in someone else. Everyone has something special. I know it’s a cliché but its true. Don’t become a part of the fashion or media industries because you want to be famous. Stop thinking about what you’ll wear to the red carpet. Do your job first. Work on your strength. If you have it, please bring it on. If you don’t, then don’t cheat. The market is already very saturated. Don’t be a mediocre designer when you can be a top of the line engineer or doctor. Don’t settle for less.

Omar Rahim meets the brains behind Canvas gallery

As she runs her hand through her lustrous hair in her new purpose-built art gallery in Karachi, it’s hard to believe that just eight years ago Sameera Raja underwent chemotherapy in her battle against cancer.  The diagnosis came at a critical mid-career moment for her: she had established Canvas seven years earlier, painstakingly developing a market for contemporary art in Pakistan’s commercial hub, a city more accustomed to splurging on traditional Masters than investing in a fresh art graduate’s experiments. As a single mother with a young son and a business not yet fully on its feet, one might think that Sameera would have lost her nerve. But one would be very wrong. Like the hair that grew back thicker and shinier, Sameera recovered from her illness and came back stronger, smarter and more focused, building Canvas into what is unquestionably one of the foremost contemporary art galleries in Pakistan.

Canvas’s list of artists is a virtual who’s who of Pakistan’s contemporary art superstars: Rashid Rana, Imran Qureshi and Aisha Khalid, Hamra Abbas, Risham Syed, Naiza Khan, Adeela Suleiman the list goes on and on. In fact, in an overwhelming show of support from the community, 37 of the country’s top artists contributed work under the curatorial guidance of none other than Rashid Rana for the grand opening of the new premises in November 2013. When asked how she managed to be a catalyst for so many artists whose careers are currently at the apex of the global art scene, Sameera credits her time at the National College of Arts in Lahore, where she studied architecture. Being at NCA gave Sameera a solid understanding of art history and practice, enabling her to become a gallerist who can engage artists with empathy and understanding, (not to mention the added advantage of developing friendships with many of the artists she went on to exhibit and promote.) After all, she was one of them.



Pakistani contemporary artists are now part of virtually every important private and institutional collection in the world

And yet she was different. Sameera understood the intricacies of balancing art with commerce early on — an understanding that eludes most artists. Realizing that her gallery’s relevance and long-term survival required Canvas to be more than just a cash-and-carry shop, Sameera provided exposure for riskier work even when she knew it wouldn’t sell immediately. She regularly curated group shows in which younger experimental artists were paired with established seniors, nurturing the careers of new talent while serving the buyers and artists who kept the gallery in business. It was part of a larger strategy and mission: Sameera utilized Canvas as a platform for educating audiences in the understanding and appreciation of contemporary Pakistani art. Beyond the obvious humanistic value of her modus operandi, Sameera’s intuition proved to be keen business insight — not only has the local art market grown to a multi-million dollar industry, Pakistani contemporary artists are now part of virtually every important private and institutional collection in the world and many of them got their first big break at Canvas.


Sameera’s eyes light up when she describes how 15,000 of Karachi’s citizens from all walks of life engaged with cutting-edge art

When asked to discuss some highlights from her career, Sameera describes an unusual recruitment scene. In December 2013, senior officials from the Sindh Government requested her to design and curate a festival that projected the dynamic contemporary art scene of Sindh and Pakistan. The only catch was that she had less than three months to pull it off. Undeterred, Sameera surprised her hosts by upping the ante by suggesting the exhibition be held at ‘Frere Hall,’ one of Karachi’s most famous landmark buildings that also serves as a public park in the center of the city. Thus began the ambitious Sindh Art Festival that took place in February 2014. Her eyes light up when she describes how 15,000 of Karachi’s citizens from all walks of life engaged with cutting-edge contemporary art and performance work produced by 63 innovative artists during the Sindh Art Fest. “We brought art to the people,” Sameera says proudly, without mentioning the fact that she didn’t collect a fee for her enormous effort. She repeats brightly, “We brought more and more people into the fold of art.”

When pressed to describe her next goal, Sameera thinks for a moment, then fires: “I want to set up a Museum of Contemporary Art in Karachi. I want to work closely with a panel of art patrons who want to invest in an institution that will give back to society.” Coming from any other person, one might find such pronouncements bombastic or far-fetched, but sitting across from Sameera Raja, it sounds not just plausible but inevitable. Of course Sameera will establish Pakistan’s foremost contemporary art museum. The real question is who will have the wisdom and foresight to join hands with Sameera as she applies herself to achieving her next milestone.

Photography | Jaffer Hasan

Saba Ahmed meets artist Laila Rahman

Laila Rahman lives and works in a home that exudes artistic splendour. Massive coffee table books on art and architecture meet my eye along with artefacts that would make the most well-stocked galleries look threadbare. “I have a passion for collecting nice things,”  says Laila. Nice? More like exquisite.

‘I think small is really small and big is really big, this in-between size just annoyed the hell out of me!’


Gardener porcelain

The artist’s spectacular selection of Gardner porcelain finds its place in the centre of her home in a special, purpose-built wall—a nook of sorts, designed by Laila herself. “In every Pathan household, you’ll probably grow up around a Gardner or two,” she says. Francis Gardner was an English entrepreneur who teamed up with Johann Miller, an expert porcelain workman, to set up the first Gardner Factory in 1766 located in a small village outside Moscow. The Gardner Factory manufactured porcelain for everyday use along with rarer and more exquisite commissioned pieces. Gardner porcelain was particularly coveted by European and Russian nobility. It has travelled eastward and westward and has now attained the status of antiquity. “I like to collect the rarer pieces, and to my displeasure, they mostly end up shipped off to wealthy collectors in Dubai!” laughs Laila.



At heart a printmaker, Laila has over the years pursued different styles and sources of inspiration. With an academic background that spans literature to fine art, Laila is alumnus to an illustrious list of schools including Slade School of Fine Arts and St. Martin’s College of Art and Design, both in London. Her most recent venture is a group show called Origins featuring her and ten other printmakers. The show features prints that speak to their cultural identities. Laila tells me how she had reached an impasse with her submission while the deadline loomed. She was annoyed too by the stipulated size of the works. “A miserable 11″ x 15″,” she adds, “I think small is really small and big is really big, this in-between size just annoyed the hell out of me!” It was a chance meeting with her cousin and literary institution Shaista Sirajuddin at a bookstore in Lahore that Laila encountered Vikram Seth’s “A Rivered Earth.”At the end of the book were poems about the seven elements. Finally, Laila had found her inspiration! “These liberté just made prints in my mind.”

 ‘The marigold is a little-regarded flower but how
happy everyone is to see it’

Raja Rasalu

Known for her work with literature and art, Laila was approached by Simurgh Publications in 2006 to illustrate a book. When Laila read the stories in the book, she says, “I was quite enchanted by them because they had completely slipped me by.” The book is a collection of stories about Raja Rasalu, a fictional hero in a string of folk tales. Rasalu is an exiled prince of Sialkot who, subsequent to his exile, wanders all over Punjab and has various adventures as a young man. An Englishwoman called Flora Annie Steele first printed the tales around the time of Kipling. Since then, there has been this edition. “So,” she says, “I am justly quite proud to be a part of it”. As what happens mostly with myths, they can become elaborate. “There is a maina and a tota and a hedgehog and a ghora, all sorts of animals that are speaking and giving direction, almost like a Greek chorus!” The text features Urdu and Punjabi couplets along with the English translations. Laila developed a series of tiny drawings to help tell the story. “They intersperse the stories, like exclamations marks,” says Laila. She explains how this is similar to the miniature tradition of painting.




About the paintings in the book, Laila says, “It was a real love affair of coming back to colour.” Prior to this, as a printmaker, Laila had been mostly using blue, black and sepia. “Even my painting was becoming monochromatic.” she says, “The content was melancholy and didn’t lend itself to a brighter palette.” But for Raja Rasalu, her palette brightened up. The marigold in the book for example, embodies the Punjab: “Because it is gaudy and riotous and it grows anywhere. It’s so bold and unabashed; it’s a little-regarded flower but how happy everyone is to see it,” she says. How beautifully and aptly put, I think.

‘There is a maina and a tota and a hedgehog and a ghora, all sorts of animals that are speaking and giving direction, almost like in a Greek chorus!’





Laila’s studio is purpose built. Beams of light flow in from the ceiling into the nook in which stand massive canvases, Laila’s works-in-progress. It’s earthy and bohemian, where re-appropriated household objects and quaint furniture mingle. The rest of Laila’s home, is meticulously-arranged from wondrous objects from all over the world. It’s the thrill of hunting down something rare that gets Laila going. “I love chancing upon somebody who wants to part with something or picking it up at some flea market,” she says. “I can associate the cup of tea I had while negotiating for a particular object and, for me, those memories become embedded in the object itself.”

As I leave her home, I am struck by Laila’s appreciation of all things refined and beautiful. But the objects that adorn her home are beautiful precisely because they are sources of inspiration. The paintings and artefacts are, then, living, breathing history.

Makeup artist Leena Ghani is slowly shifting the conventions of bridal makeup


Walking into Leena Ghani’s studio in Lahore, I’m faced by a large canvas painting. As I look around, I see another and another. There are mirrors and lamps. But there’s hardly any furniture. Emboldened in the moment, I ask if she has plans to add furniture. “I like the place to be a wide space with lots of room to walk about and space to stare into,” she says. Spoken like a true free spirit. When Leena moved her studio from London to Lahore, she brought much back with her, not just great paintings.

You might recognize her name as the makeup artist from shoots such as Meesha Shafi for Hello!, Alizeh Waqar for Nickie Nina, and Amna Babar for Zara Shahjehan. She is a visual artist with an MFA in drawing from the Camberwell College of Arts after which she pursued an intensive eight-week diploma at The London School of Beauty & Make-Up. A young woman who’s driven and talented, Leena landed a stint at MAC cosmetics, the holy grail of makeup, and a brand beloved of women the world over. At the fountainhead of styling and makeup, Leena got her hands on all kinds of fun assignments, from magazine shoots to runway shows. At the salon at Harvey Nichols in London, Leena had clients like the late fashion muse Isabella Blow, who discovered Alexander McQueen.

Leena landed a stint at MAC cosmetics, the holy grail of makeup and a brand beloved of women the world over


From the glittering world of MAC and runaway shows, Leena has since kept a jazzy yet personable practice here in Lahore. She believes it is immensely valuable to get to know your clients personally in order to give them what they are looking for. “I only take appointments. Especially if it’s a bridal client, I want them to feel at home. Like going over to a friend’s house and doing the makeup together,” says Leena. For an appointment, a pre-session get-to-know-you cup of tea is essential for Leena. She doesn’t subscribe to the setup prevalent in Pakistan, where all customers and brides are treated the same—as a blank canvas on which to dump colour. Leena bristles as the thought of Pakistani brides looking more or less the same. She has opted for a different approach, one that involves patient observation and makeup application that actually responds to and compliments the client. “You’re a bride, it’s your big day. You should certainly look your best, but you should also feel comfortable,” Leena says.


Leena swears by Giorgio Armani’s foundation that she says has a great weight and feel to it. She also loves Armani’s master corrector, a primer that glides on and neutralizes the grays of dark circles. Like most artists, MAC is her go-to for lipsticks. GT had taken along one of its contributors, Aimen Khan, to Leena’s studio. To achieve Aimen’s look, Leena started out with a lightweight, gentle moisturizer; she applied foundation in tiny strokes and blended it with a small round brush. For the eyes, she used a base of black MAC pigment with a little water to make the colour stay. She glided a black pencil eyeliner over the lid, then smudged it is small circles with an eyeshadow brush. Leena applied the liner on the water line in circles, vigorously. The liner was topped off with mascara, which had a ball-shaped applicator as opposed to a straight one. A touch of highlighter went under the arch of the brows and a small amount of brown eyeshadow on the brows to complete the look. A sheer lip-gloss balanced the boldness of the eyes and brought a healthy pop to Aimen’s lip. Some blush on the contours of Aimen’s face, previously washed out by foundation, and viola! Aimen was ready to step out to a party with polished smoky-eyes.



‘When someone says to a bride that they look beautiful, that they look like a completely different person, I wouldn’t consider that a compliment!’

Leena has won the hearts of a growing crew of brides and party-goers who appreciate her personable style and who, most importantly, prefer makeup that is complimentary instead of painted-on. “When someone says to a bride that they look beautiful, that they look like a completely different person, I wouldn’t consider that a compliment!” laughs Leena. “What’s needed is the ability to look at a face and know what’s needed, how to enhance what that person already has.”


In collaboration with photographer Kuki, Leena has been working on The Pop Culture Series which features reinterpreted portraits. So far we have gotten to see Salvador Dali, Dorian Gray, and James Dean. When I asked who would be featured next, I was told I’d have to wait and see! With steady work that fills her planner, from bridal to party clients, Leena Ghani is diligently pursuing her calling. She continues to exercise restraint and independence, altering her techniques to suit the needs of each client. Now collaborating with a photographer in the true spirit of creativity, Leena Ghani is entering the most exciting of avenues: the exploration of makeup as art.

myspace-1Komail at his desk, with one of his pieces from last year in the background

For Komail Aijazuddin, a deep affinity with art was something he had been born with. Developing a relationship with painting, however, came later in his life. Growing up, Komail’s parents were quick to see that he demonstrated extraordinary ability as an artist. When they first saw his drawings at age four, it was instantaneously decided that Komail would be enrolled in art classes. During vacations, the family would take trips to museums — when other upper-class Pakistani families were taking their kids to Hamley’s, the biggest toy store in London. In his summer vacations, he studied with Colin David. But art was still a distant and seemingly obscure idea to Komail. It wasn’t until he went to college — in Canada and later in the US — that he began to see art as a profession. “My parents are art historians and collectors, so I grew up with a lot of paintings around the house,” he tells me when I meet him in his studio in Lahore’s St. John’s Park. There are oil paints all over the main room where he works, with motivating inscriptions on the wall. His gorgeous red-and-gold-leaf paintings are stacked against the wall (Komail will show his new work, which includes a stunning jharoka, at Khaas gallery in Islamabad from September 17 to 28).


myspace-9Komail with his newest work, most recently exhibited in a solo show, “Red & Gold,” at Khaas Gallery in Islamabad

After Komail received his distinction in Art in the O Levels, he received two gifts from his father. The first was a sketch of Colin David, from the artists days at Slade. The second was a trip to Italy. His father took him to Rome to see the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel, with its iconic ceiling painted by Michelangelo.

During their vacations, the family would take trips to museums when other upper-class Pakistani families were taking their kids to Hamley’s, the biggest toy store in London

At college, Komail began in the liberal arts, but quickly made a switch to art history when he transferred from McGill to New York University. “The more I studied Art History, the more I realized that artists think differently and happen to be good at being able to read the history of art and distill information in a way that is different from most people,” he tells me. He studied Art History as a rigorous program that constituted mainly Greek and Roman art. Thus, in following, he began a string of stints in art and other creative pursuits.



After a year of having worked for Amnesty International, he tested the waters and worked briefly at a magazine. “Writing was also something I really wanted to do because I write as much as I paint.” Komail was 21, in New York, and couldn’t see what it was that he really wanted to do. He worked at a gallery, an auction house, wrote about art, in addition to working as a theatre critic. At the age of 22, after having done a whole host of desk jobs, he had an epiphany: “If  9-to-5 is a very large part of your day, for the rest of your life, it is imperative you do something you really, really enjoy doing. And it seems arrogant, but whatever someone else will pay you to do something you don’t like is not often worth it.” Komail bit the bullet and enrolled in an MFA program at Pratt University in New York.



He realized that he became more and more interested in painting. “I started including the application of gold-leaf to my painting process and I started doing it as therapy almost,” he says. “I had stopped painting for a long time between 18 and 21, which for a painter is a long time. I felt this great betrayal for some reason. And the only way to rationalize that betrayal was to paint about it.”



As one of the highlights of his career, at the end of grad school, Komail spent a year dealing in art and working in an Israeli gallery. It was a fun time in his life but for Komail it was clear that the microcosm of the art world would continue to exist in Brooklyn or in Chelsea. In other words, it was not relevant to him. The strength of his identity and earliest influences made him see that the art world and market in New York were self referential, academic and deeply rooted in American and Western Art History.



I probed Komail to tell me more about Pakistani Art. “I don’t know about Pakistani Art or artists, I think about Art in Pakistan,” he says. “I don’t know if we’ve developed a definition for Pakistani Art and what that is,” he says, with his classic mix of skepticism and intelligence. “The — isms of the west came and influenced our part of the world later, like reruns of old TV shows, but also in a way that was interpreted by local artists that resulted in distinctly different formal elements from the — isms from which they were derived.” He traces a lack of indigenous movements in Pakistani art as a problem. “The followers of influential artists are what make an art movement. Colin David doesn’t have followers right now in the way he should. I have adored his work and I will be a big proponent of it for the rest of my life.”

‘I’m wary of the fact that Pakistani Art is topical right now because the country is war-torn, and as long as that continues, there will be an interest in it’

The strongest and oldest painting tradition of our region, to date, is that of miniature painting. With eastern techniques, the work is measured and thoughtful and skilled. “You try and imbibe something from whatever community you’re in but at the same time, painting is not a team sport,” says Komail. “It’s important to be aware of how you are considered and what other people are doing in this country, yet it is not a team sport,” he says, outlining the inherent contradictions of being an artist — a fundamentally solitary process, with years of history stretching behind you.



Komail attributes the dearth of more groundbreaking movements in Pakistani art to the sheer lack of painters. “Creative people from different industries can get grouped together under the same banner if they aren’t enough of them in their respective fields to advance individual schools of thought. The local Pakistani scene has little or no presence in the international Art world when it comes to galleries and curatorial prowess. If you go to Art Dubai or the Venice Biennale or Art Istanbul, you won’t find a Pakistani gallery there. There may be dozens of Pakistani artists, but almost no galleries from Pakistan, which speaks volumes.”

 He has spent time understanding his relationship with Pakistan to solidify his own appreciation of creating work in the country. He uses traditional techniques that could only be made by local Pakistani craftspeople. The jharoka stands out in his most recent work as a distinctly South Asian element.

‘I have adored Colin David’s work and I will be a big proponent of it for the rest of my life’

After finishing up a show, Komail takes a breather, a small vacation or a short stint of doing absolutely nothing. It’s the well-deserved reward for someone who has bared their soul, creating art in a studio alone, day in and day out, with only one’s own thoughts and routine load-shedding as accompaniments! Later, once the work is out, “to defend and market your work can really churn your insides — from the time of the creation of the pieces till when they are sold,” he laughs. The good news is that Komail takes his painting seriously. It is a profession. “The risk of failure is high and truthfully and simply, artists should know where their strength lies. The other great thing about art, he says, is that “it’s a platform from which you can attack lots of different things. But I’m wary of the fact that Pakistani art is topical right now because the country is war-torn and as long as that continues, there will be an interest in it.”


myspace-8Komail walks GT through his various processes

“The jharoka,” he continues, “is craft, but art here in Pakistan it is not only on a wall, it’s utilitarian. There is use to it. There is a tremendous amount of philosophy behind Islamic Art for example that is not based on craft.”

I leave the studio in a bit of daze, having just been given a frighteningly intelligent and considered tour of Art History, and particularly the place and development of Pakistani Art in it. “You do what you do and if you do it well, your work will do well because at the end of the day, you have to defend yourself. My advice for painters is to tell the truth in their work. The closer you get to the truth, the better people respond to it. It is a brave thing to do, and it is not an easy thing to do in a country like Pakistan.”

Pin It