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June 2, 2012 / the s.a. project

a chorus of hollow souls

A chorus of hollow souls – Mohsin Shafi
3 minutes 50 seconds

Mohsin Shafi

Read more about Mohsin Shafi and the twisty drawing cherub Maria Khan (featured in the s.a. project blogs ‘i return to the monsters i like‘) in the Asia Society blog post –> Multimedia: Pakistani Artists Explore Myth, Reality and Identity

While one dodges women who want to give their work a ‘makeover’, the other suppresses disappointment at yet another gallery rejecting a proposal for a show. Yet they manage to make more work, display it, squeeze in awards and residencies, and sometimes make a quick buck. Things I can never manage to get done!


MEANWHILE, I sat down to talk to artist Risham Syed for a discussion on what goes on behind the scenes of art exhibitions and big curated projects. I wish it were an actual sit down, but it was not, and instead we chatted on Skype instead – kind of necessary with thousands of miles between us.

Go ahead, read: ArtNow – Contemporary Art of Pakistan – Artist of the Month: Risham Syed even if the black background blinds you after a while.

Seven Seas, Turkey quilt (ACAP 2012) – Risham Syed


May 8, 2012 / the s.a. project

My show that I never saw…

Conversations in Hyperreality | Solo Show at Experimenter Kolkata, India | April-May 2012




Also, on another note: I crossed 40,000 views on the blog. eep.


April 17, 2012 / the s.a. project

the blog and I evolve

My hiatus on the blog and in real life is mostly due to my engagement with my solo show that is opening this month at Experimenter, Kolkata, India.

I traveled back to Pakistan from Brazil in early March, so that I could spend sometime back home and also concentrate on producing my work from here. What followed next is a bizarre tale of 12-16 hours power-cuts that made it impossible for me to work on my computer for my digital books, and to get any kind of printing on time. The work has finally been sent, with the FedEX guy warning me that they don’t offer any insurance on packages in Pakistan. But after he told me Imran Qureshi is his regular client, my faith was instantly restored and I packed my drawings and little books and sent them off!

The work is still in the installation process in India, with Prateek and Priyanka facing their own challenges. However, what an amazing duo they have been. I have never really worked long distance before on such a large scale and because the show is mostly site specific there has been loads of uncertainty on how to get it done without me in India. But P & P have done a fantastic job in smoothing out all the ruffles, creases, and other madness I tend to surround my work with!

Hence, something will go up, some people will see it, some will hate it, some will like it, one or two will hopefully love it and then it will be over.

But what concerns me at the moment is that a lot of people have discussed where my position is now in regards to my opinions and my original stance. In the past few weeks I have been told several times that I have given in and since I have shown with/through Grey Noise several times, I must be now corrupted. I feel different. I think I got lucky with Grey Noise, because Umer was perhaps the only person who got excited about showing my scraps of paper and large amounts of text. My first solo was a complete non-commercial show, whose production was definitely a huge dent in Grey Noise’s budget. But Umer went along and I have complete admiration for his trust. Especially considering how erratically I work. My new work for Experimenter is also a largely non-commercial venture. The 4 other shows last year were in essence also experimental and mostly very personal drawings and journals.

The point is: I’m not apologetic for what I’m doing. Especially not towards those who never took the time out to read/listen to what I was talking about in the first place. I’m doing what I feel is right. My intent was never to just talk HOT AIR. I talked about things I still believe in. I cannot be made to feel guilty if I sell something. And neither can I be expected to go along with what everyone else thinks my agenda is or was.

But for some reason asking for a broader based platform for the arts translates as: I must never ever make money and must hate all those who sell. (Great. The first part seems to be working out fine!)

In a recent interview for Hindustan Times, just a few of my words and apparent quotes have been misrepresented in a way which makes it seem as if I’m mocking the traditionalists and my art school in my search for greener pastures. It’s not what I meant at all, and it’s sad because that’s exactly what ticks me off about our art market – how people are busy putting down the others’ practice. So apparently, my questions and critique are misread by most and sundry across the board. I do believe that there was no malicious intent, but perhaps thats how my work is understood.

My desire was always to make a new space for my art. The not so pretty art. The endless text. The weird drawings and the scraps of paper I love piecing together. It’s never been about debasing other forms, but mostly about questioning what people perceive to be beautiful, to be art.

So what now? I think in the past decade I’ve tried hard to find my own place and do my own thing and I’m still finding my ground. In the process, I have pissed off many people with my point of views, but mostly I have made new friends. I never claimed to be an authority on anything. But I did claim that I thought my opinion mattered, at least to myself.

So my yellow blog and I continue to evolve, grow, stumble, and fluctuate between making mistakes and crash-landing upon epiphanies. And we both give people a reason to either nod in agreement or show us the middle finger!

Future plans? When I’m rich I’ll buy the internet. And mind controlling devices. And have you inscribe my name on your back in black ink. 


p.s. My website is ALIVE. It is. 


March 17, 2012 / the s.a. project

Photographing Artists Series – II

The Photographing Artists Series is an attempt to compile various perspectives and angles of how artists are perceived. Portraiture was once only the domain of artists who painted or drew famous people, commissions, muses, lovers and themselves. However, it has always intrigued me how artists are perceived by others. I have commented on it before in the blogpost ‘artist: the raving lunatic’ and most recently also did a feature on a self-portraiture group show ‘the artist and the self’. Also see Photographing Artists Series I.

In this series I will be posting images of Pakistani artists that have been taken by various photographers in the photographer’s studio, in the artist’s studio, at exhibitions/events, or even candidly.

If you have photographs of artists that you’d like to share, please email them at saira[at]sairaansari[dot]com with details.

Artists photographed by Mobeen Ansari

Mobeen Ansari is young, talented and driven by a manic love for the captured image. In the last decade Mobeen has travelled all across Pakistan and taken some stunning photographs of the land, its streets and its people. Although heavily engrossed with portraiture at the moment, Mobeen’s landscapes and industrial photographs are breathtaking.

Today I’m featuring portrait photographs taken from a project that Mobeen has been working on for almost 2 years. (It was hard to make the selection as he has a multitude of photographs and personalities to choose from, but maybe those can be saved for later posts). The massive project, which is a  journey of recording faces and histories of iconic personalities of Pakistan, will culminate in a published book (hopefully in 2012). Mobeen’s work has also been featured in many publications across Pakistan, as well as a recent surprise feature in National Geographic Russia.

See more work at Mobeen Ansari’s facebook page or his flikr account.

Roll over pointer on images to see titles. Click images to see them magnified.


Artists photographed (in order of appearance): RM Naeem, Salima Hashmi, Saeed Akhtar, Raza Kazim, Iqbal Hussain, Anwar Maqsood, Sheema Kirmani.


February 26, 2012 / the s.a. project

Photographing Artists Series – I

The Photographing Artists Series is an attempt to compile various perspectives and angles of how artists are perceived. Portraiture was once only the domain of artists who painted or drew famous people, commissions, muses, lovers and themselves. However, it has always intrigued me how artists are perceived by others. I have commented on it before in the blogpost ‘artist: the raving lunatic’ and most recently also did a feature on a self-portraiture group show ‘the artist and the self’.

In this series I will be posting images of Pakistani artists that have been taken by various photographers in the photographer’s studio, in the artist’s studio, at exhibitions/events, or even candidly.

If you have photographs of artists that you’d like to share, please email them at saira[at]sairaansari[dot]com with details.

Artists photographed by Nashmia Haroon

Nashmia Haroon’s portfolio is vast and she works best when she is tackling situations that are beyond the controlled environments of a studio. Some of her most moving works came from photographing post-bombing sites in Lahore (featured in Reuters 2010), documenting protests (included in the Delhi Photo Festival 2011), and even venturing into the infants ward at a local hospital. Another side to her portfolio is the beautifully structured domain of urban and architectural imagery which is often photographed keeping key light, reflection and exposure elements as the narrative makers. On a different note today, here are her ‘artists‘. Enjoy.

See more work at Nashmia Haroon’s website and on her facebook page .

Roll over pointer on images to see titles. Click images to see them magnified.

Artists photographed (in order of appearance): Rashid Rana, Usman Saeed, Sumaya Durrani, Risham Syed, Sarah Ahmed Mumtaz, Sana Arjumand, Ameena Hussain and Amean J.


February 9, 2012 / the s.a. project

the artist and the self


PINSTORY, 35mm slide film – Farina Alam

Recently I got a forwarded email from R.M.Naeem who is a teacher and a renowned painter. He was my instructor at NCA in 2003. Although he and I have very different opinions and we don’t agree eye-to-eye on many things, he is one of the few people who don’t read a threat into my ramblings and treats me and my opinions with respect. I’ve also gotten to talk to Naeem Sahab on many occasions about the issues that plague the art market and institutions in Pakistan. He is very prompt and direct in his reply – he acknowledges the politics very strongly and has decided that rather than be affected by it he will do his own lobbying – hence the RM Naeem residency for artists, group shows, talks etc. that include many from his own ‘school of thought’.

Coming back to where I started off – the email. Most recently he shared the photo-album from the showMEIN’ – ‘The Artist and the Self‘, a group show curated by Noorjehan Bilgrami and AmeanJ. The exhibit opens in February at the Koel Gallery Karachi and showcases the work of more than 80 artists! Now that’s an ambitious selection, but apparently the grand size of it is due to the 3rd anniversary of the gallery.

I saw through the album and as is to be expected from such large exhibits there are ALL kinds of works included. Famous artists, not-so-famous artists, great works, bland boring works, experimental works, replicated works… and so on and so forth. I’m including a selection of images here that truly caught my eye and thought I should share them on my blog. Go see the show and tell me how it was!

The first two images posted here are by print-makers/painters Anwar Saeed and Naazish Ata-ullah (more fondly known as Najji), who also happened to be my tutors for the entire year of 2004. Both Anwar sahab and Najji are showcasing digital works that are quite fascinating. Regarding Najji’s work, you might be interested in checking out an earlier post of mine that discusses nudity and sexuality in contemporary Pakistani art –> Naked – literally & figuratively.

The Comfort of Strangers, Digital print on archival paper - Anwar Saeed

The Transparency of Time VII, Digital Print - Naazish Ata-ullah

I have seen the video by Amra Khan, stills from which are posted below. It is macabre, nauseating and f***ing brilliant. I don’t know why I loved it but it made me shudder and equally connect at some very demented level. I find Masooma Syed’s work intriguing mainly because I find her intensely intriguing. Her work is complex and intertwined chaotically with her own personal life and often results in some very quirky artwork. Other works posted here are by Amin Gulgee, Mohammad Ali Talpur, Mahreen Zuberi, Saba Khan and finally Iqbal Geoffrey.

Born This Way, Croc’s skull, roses, and painted steel - Amin Gulgee

Weeping wounds that never heal, Video Installation - Amra Khan

Mohammad Ali Talpur, Ink on paper - Mohammad Ali Talpur

Sweet Tooth, Digital print - Mahreen Zuberi

Kalyani BLACK LABEL, Silver and found material – Masooma Syed

Bad Prana, MDF with acrylic paint. Sculpture: Fabric with glass beads, pins, threads and polyester stuffing - Saba Khan

And for sheer entertainment value and tongue-in-cheek like no other: Iqbal Geoffreys paseenay-daar Mona Lisa. I don’t quite know what to think of it. But because I like his weird drawings and postcard series I’ll let this one slip by!

Portrait (Port-A-Trait) Won:: (SAD) MONA LISA SWEATING IT OUGHT (She is All Paseena-Paseena) in THE SHALIMAR GARDENS DURING A RECENT PAKISTAN YATRA":circa 1990 to 2012 , Relief (3D Sculptural) in fibreglass on plexiglass and mixed media- Iqbal Geoffrey

See the complete gallery here: MEIN” – ‘The ARTIST AND THE SELF

Koel Gallery – Feb 9-20, 2012.
All images courtesy: Noorjehan Bilgrami @ Koel gallery


You might also like to read: Pakistani Contemporary Art – A Brief History of Now

February 3, 2012 / the s.a. project

Guest Write-up: Pakistani artists in San Francisco

A few weeks ago I received a message from a fellow tweeter who wanted to share a write-up she had written for a Pakistani group exhibition that took place in San Francisco late last year. She sent it to a couple of English newspapers and publications in Pakistan who said they’ll look into it but nothing really came out of that.

For me, it is imperative that artists, students and viewers start looking at work and discussing it, voicing their own opinions. There are really no wrong or right opinions, unless they are based on pre-conceived notions of what should be. However, it is important to educate yourself and try to dip your finger in this murky pool! Most importantly, the more people begin to write, the more exposure Pakistani shows and artists will receive, especially those who are less covered or not covered at all in the media.

I’m glad that the writer decided to send it to me and see if I’d put it up. And I was yes yes yes to Guest Write-ups!


WORKS BY TASMIA & FATIMA – The Blue Studio – Michelle O’Connor Gallery

Tasmia Zahra Hussain (formerly Tasmia Qasuria to her NCA colleagues)website

Fatima Zaman

Paintings in oils, acrylics & mixed media

By Sehr – @Ricochet118, California

The term ‘Brain Drain’, is commonly used to refer to the exodus of talented and bright young Pakistanis that has been going on for a number of decades. However, what is usually not acknowledged is the fact that this Pakistani Diaspora has been sharing the wealth of its talents and skills within the communities where it has settled. The recognition and promotion of such achievements is becoming more important in the current socio-political climate as the repercussions of increasing paranoia and stereotyping are being manifested in alarming ways. Whenever there is a noticeable contribution made by an individual of Pakistani origin within a community, it is a triumph for the image of Pakistan and Pakistanis.

Two such immensely talented individuals making their mark away from home are Tasmia Zahra Hussain and Fatima Zaman, who currently reside in the United States. These two promising young Pakistani artists are being welcomed into the San Francisco art arena. I had the opportunity to attend the opening of their recent exhibition in San Francisco, titled ‘Works By Tasmia and Fatima’, and later sat down with these enthusiastic young ladies to talk about their art, their experience exhibiting in the US and their aspirations for the future.

Tasmia Zahra Hussain

Both artists have their own distinctive style of painting and both have completely different exposure to the arts. Tasmia appears to be the more seasoned of the two artists. She graduated with distinction from the National College of Arts in Lahore with a major in Fine Arts and went on to complete her post-baccalaureate from the San Francisco Art Institute.  She already has a presence in Pakistani art circles where she has exhibited her work a couple of times. Her work includes extensive use of floral imagery and natural elements, while her colours remain muted.  Tasmia’s paintings seem to have a slight ethereal quality to them and reflect her introspective nature. She refers to her paintings as ‘concealed pages of her life’. Most of her pieces are untitled and she explains that the reason for this is that her work is very personal and reflective of her experiences and thoughts. However, she prefers each person viewing her work to absorb it based on their own experiences instead of mulling over the basis of her inspiration.

Fatima Zaman

Interestingly, Fatima’s style is in sharp contrast to Tasmia’s. Her color palette is bold and vibrant. Her forms are sharper and more defined. Bold colors, ethnic imagery and repeated use of the female form are characteristics represented in most of her pieces. The use of color and texture in some of her works is breathtaking. Metal jewels and trinkets adorn some of her more ethnic pieces and add a whimsical, almost kinetic quality to her pieces. She creates a lot of mixed media pieces and has also created a few pieces on an unconventional wooden grain canvas.

Fatima has had no formal training in the Arts and she has always been painting as a hobby and painting on a consignment basis in the San Francisco Bay Area. She has also dabbled in other creative ventures such as jewellery designing and has worked at an interior design firm.

During our discussion, Tasmia opines that Fatima’s lack of formal training has probably worked to her advantage as she is not weighed down by the knowledge of the techniques taught in Art school. She can successfully and without hesitation bring her emotions and message to the blank canvas.  Fatima herself states that she is a very passionate person and that her real-life traits of non-conformity and emotional abandon are what are manifested in her work.

Both artists would like to exhibit their work in Pakistan. However, they are currently focusing on firmly establishing themselves in local San Francisco art circles and plan to exhibit their works in galleries around the SF Bay Area. Establishing their name in the international arena is a goal for them and their achievements are a source of pride for Pakistan.


January 20, 2012 / the s.a. project

The slutty MA pops again

Much as the little world around it tries everything to make this pregnancy as difficult as possible, the MA (Hons.) Visual Arts at NCA has popped its 11th baby. The Class of 2010-2011 graduated last week, January 2012. This post is long and has many pictures so grab a cuppa chai and take out some time to browse it. 

I might sound like a broken record when I relate the same stories that we suffered when our batch graduated. Space wars, display date dilemmas, nervous breakdowns and respect issues. All fought and sustained on the NCA battle turf. Yet again the show seems to be cowering in the bowels of the far more renowned, far larger and far more elaborate Bachelors thesis. Don’t get me wrong. That happens to be my favourite time of the year too. But at the expense of the glamour kitty, the street urchins really do get the boot. FYI: The Bachelors Thesis is currently on display at NCA. 

The current MA class went through many labour pains despite the tireless efforts put in by a handful of dedicated faculty members. Their thesis dates were shifted around so many times they got dizzy marking their calendars. Tutors were impossible to find and sign on. A preponement nearly gave one or two a heart attack and some considered pulling out and displaying next year instead. A plan to display with the BFA thesis went to the dogs. Yet the show did go on and was displayed in the three Zahoor-ul-Iklhaq galleries, store-room and the Main Courtyard. It was curated by Dr. Atteqa Ali. (They were also asked to pull down their show early on the last exhibit date because the galleries were needed for the BFA work…but no more on that. I’m keeping my bitter pill for me this time.) 

Now to the work, of which I have sadly only seen pictures myself. I was lucky enough to be constantly updated by a few of the students who kept me posted with photographs of artworks in progress and display plans. Because I was unable to experience the works in actuality there is little to what I can say on execution and finesse. NCA theses (BFA/MA) have been making leaps and bounds in their display skills ever since they were rudely pinched in their soft buttocks by the much more savvy students of BNU. Now BNU thesis displays are something to talk about. Some might say its just the amount of exposure – one lacks it, the other overdoses on it. However, a balance of some sorts is being achieved in the last few years. But what NCA students need most to focus on is that a finished artwork and its display context speaks volumes about the artist.

Reading Salman Toor’s review in The Friday Times, it seems that the issue is not with the how the work has been done and executed. After detailed descriptions of the work and a polite sendoff he writes: No work in this show seems to strive towards defying classification itself, towards generating new forms. And this is confirmed when you read the artists’ statements in the slim catalogue for the show. They don’t read much. They think about their work in terms of feeling, but not yet in terms of the starkly lucid art-speak with which art history is being written every day. 

To some extent I agree and disagree with him equally. I too felt that much of the display relied heavily on classic clichés that perhaps become tiresome for the art community that has seen it, been there, printed it and stuck it to their bathroom door. But I do disagree on the last line. I do know that many of them read, and not just cheap fiction. Additionally, just like painting seems to be going IN and OUT of the art scene, contemporary arts have somehow made it criminal to be emotionally vested in art-making. Last it was seen and heard of in the late 80’s.

Sarah Mumtaz - Performance

Stemming from Toor’s comment on no performance star to be seen, I would really like to jump in with my completely opinionated views! Sarah Mumtaz‘s performance piece is bold, brave and her own. It doesn’t stem from another, neither does it have to promise a future. She sits in a sparkling blue dress (disturbingly scanty) and pushes a needle and thread through her stocking-ed legs to sew row upon row of stitches. She talks in a monologue, while recorded conversations between her and a boy play in the background. She keeps repeating to herself  that everything will be ok. The mantra starts slow, builds up in rhythm and volume until she is shrieking and crying. Her entire upper body, arms and facial expressions are agitated, while her limp legs remain silently still. She supports herself with the chair when she gets up, embracing her physical disabilities as what defines her past, present and future. It is intense and has moved many to tears in the internal juries as well as the public performances. It also leaves people feeling extremely uncomfortable and unsure as to how they should react.

Performing Arts (in the field of Arts and not dance/theater), is not a very common medium in our art schools and rarely seen in galleries/exhibition spaces. There is no actual degree in it, and little to none exposure of performing artists. So when I see an artist perform a devastatingly personal and vulnerable piece, even I know when to put my critical pen down and use my hands to clap instead.

But I’m glad that Toor spoke out what he felt and saw. There is very little straightforward talk in reviews these days. Toor has had good international and national exposure working with various artists and galleries and he speaks from his personal experience (that so far has been saved from the famous Lahore politics methinks!) He also made many visual inspiration connections that were obvious – Zahoor-ul-Akhlaq, Rashid Rana, Mehreen Murtaza and Faiza Butt – painfully so, as some of these students have been very unhappy with these labels and the apparent downgrading of their creative process.

The Express Tribune has a rather tame review that titles the entirety of the work under ‘Dark, demented and grotesque’. Read it if you must. It’s about the only other coverage the show got. SO many bones to pick with the writers that seem to be present everywhere but the MA thesis, every year. 

I was given the honour of writing for their catalogue – alongside their tutors/teachers/mentors  Sajjad Kausar (Principal NCA), Murtaza Jafri (Director MA Visual Arts), Saamia Ahmed (Coordinator), Laila Reman (Printmaker/Associate Professor), Dr. Atteqa Ali (Curator/H.O.D Cultural Studies), R.M.Naeem (Painter/Assistant Professor)and I went off on a little happy rant that was printed here.

I also got to work in detail online with Mohsin of the family picture wall and Maria of the wild-eyed corpulent charcoal ladies. Mizna‘s work took me most by surprise because I had not seen this direction of hers. Trained as a miniature artist, Mizna was experimenting with medium and form from day 1 at the programme (or maybe day 14?) so maybe I should have known she wouldn’t stick to the ordinary. Irfan‘s foray into installation was perhaps expected as he was looking to expand his practice into uncharted territories. However the old TV set of Amra, Sarah and Irfan became too similar as one thought, even if it was not deliberate. Imrana returned to her roots of textile after much fumbling in the programme, Esmaeil worked in his maddening solitude to produce metal sculptural forms that I had seen developing over time, and Rabiya jumped to a whole new level.

But it is how Imrana and Mohsin had trouble merging their textile/graphics background in the MA programme, and Esmaeil his new-found creative freedom in Pakistan, that pointed out some fatal flaws in the current coursework that put these three through some terrible anxiety attacks over the past 2 years….

Aaaaahh there is much, SO much to say. But perhaps I’ll save it for another post.

Presenting the works of 9 contemporary artists, practicing in the field of Visual and Performing Arts, here is the graduating class of MA (Hons.) Visual Arts, NCA.


–> MORE IMAGES can be seen here at the Public photo album on facebook.


Visit The s.a. Project facebook page for more regular updates or join me on my adventures on twitter – SairaAnsariPK

January 10, 2012 / the s.a. project

as 2012 rolls in…

Before I start the first post of 2012: Thank you 2011 for leaving, you were truly a terrible year.


Mizna Zulfiqar – MA (Hons) Visual Arts Degree Show 2012

It’s been a whole month and a jump into 2012 since my last blogpost. It’s partially to blame on Twitterwhere I’m most often found, constantly tweeting about new shows, exhibitions, grants, photo shares and anything interesting on Pakistani and International Art. The s.a. Project facebook page has grown a lot too and I share many stories at that platform as well.

Today I ended up adding so many more Pakistani / South Asian artists and galleries to my twitter list that it made me think: Maybe I should compile a Pakistan-centric list of people/galleries/art institutions on twitter and post it as a permanent page addition to the blog. It can be updated regularly and people can email in to have their twitter-handles added in. I think  a resource like this will provide a lot more exposure and encouragement to the Pakistani art tweeple, who are in all honesty quite sluggish in their posts (says the woman who last blogged on Nov 29, 2011!). At the moment, while the world tweets about world affairs, art, fashion, food and everything you could imagine about, the Pakistani timeline is choked up with journalists and commentators. A lot of them have become good friends and acquaintances of mine, and although they’re doing a great job it becomes very monotonous. So, lets jump on to the bandwagon now shall we, even if we’re a few light years too late!

Another reason I was so delayed was my involvement in a GREAT international art project, with immense possibilities, that I unfortunately had to walk away from because of a few unprofessional members involved. Another case of middle men mismanagement – in any case I have fumed and foamed at the mouth and I’m over it. Moving on…

Whats next on the blog?

Graduating Class – MA (Hons.) Visual Arts, NCA

I’m currently working on the MA (Hons.) Visual Arts Degree Show 2012 post (the show will be wrapping up tomorrow, January 11, 2012) and it should be up in the next few days, or as soon as I receive all the tons of material I’ve requested from them! I’m very excited for the 9 artists that have graduated, many of who are old friends. Over the past few months I have worked closely with a few of them via email and Skype and I’m excited to see how their work has turned out. They did me the great honour of having me write something for their show catalogue and I also got a super cool shout out from them in the end. Made this monster misty-eyed for a moment!

However, I insisted (translate: argued) with them on not writing my title as Art Critic.  I don’t think I’m there yet…I’m more of a Has Too Many Opinions title kind of person. I did get an Art Journalist title from them and I know exactly which people at NCA would be scoffing at that.

Additionally, I will also be blogging a Guest Post reviewing a Pakistani group show in San Francisco. I’m excited that people across the globe want to share their own reviews and write-ups here.

So if you want to send in a story, photographs or anything you think I should know about, drop me a line at saira([at]sairaansari(dot)com (apparently this is how you avoid spam mail, fingers crossed!). I might blog it, and will most definitely tweet it!


And DO check out the amazing shows Bani Abidi and Huma Mulji  put up in Baltic – UK, Project 88 – India and Grey Noise – Pakistan. Clicking on the photos will take you to the exhibition photo albums posted on Facebook.

Bani Abidi: Section Yellow at the Baltic, UK - image courtesy Green Cardamom. The show is also showing at Grey Noise, Pakistan till January 13, 2012.

Huma Mulji | Twilight at the Project 88 gallery, India


Visit The s.a. Project facebook page for more regular updates

And definitely join in on my adventures on twitter – SairaAnsariPK

November 29, 2011 / the s.a. project

The kooky Indian girl who once lived in Lahore

The artist I’m featuring today is a strange woman who has a delicious way with words and scribbles. She is constantly muttering strange sentences that spin fantastic tales. Then she draws them. VIDHA SAUMYA came to Lahore from Mumbai in search of a place she had read about. She worked and practiced as an artist for a couple of months and that was the first time I got to see her ridiculously gorgeous books at an exhibit right before she left. Since then I have been endlessly fascinated by here. This is an attempt to enter her chaotic world with my quite useless questionnaire. Enjoy.


Love Charades Installation View (1) Love Charades Installation View (2)

VIDHA SAUMYA, Whipped Cream, 2010, Cello Gripper on Chinese paper   The colour 'Flood Red', 2010, Cello Gripper on Chinese paper, 68 x 95.2 cm

Sugar syrup is a good adhesive, 2011, Cello Gripper on Chinese paper, 141.5 x 68 cm Reduction leads to intense flavour, 2011, Cello Gripper on Chinese paper, 132 x 68 cm The flowers from her hair kept falling till they could fall no more. So they decided to walk, 2011, Cello Gripper on Chinese paper, 141.5 x 68 cm Gutting blue_ going rubies, 2011, Cello Gripper on Chinese paper, 152.4 x 69 cm

VIDHA SAUMYA, Just when the moon turned blue the butterflies soared low and flew, 2010, Cello Gripper on Chinese paper Stir in slowly to avoid lumps, 2011, Cello Gripper on Chinese paper, 68 x 160 cm

New loves bobbing in the sea_ they say they have no name, 2011, Cello Gripper on Chinese paper, 68 x 141.5 cm Loaded, heavy the starry sky, 2011, Cello Gripper on Chinese paper, 68 x 147.3 cm

Quick Bio. As short as possible. In 1 word or 2 please state name, age, upbringing, school, college, degree, bad relationships and pets. Stick to letters. Or numbers. Or don’t say anything. Or do. (Question I asked Mehreen Murtaza first & now plan to use it for everyone!)

Name: VIDHA SAUMYA;  Age: 10095 days; Upbringing: Healthy; School: 4, College: 4

Degree: Double BFA, Single Diploma. BFA(Painting) J.J. School of Art, Mumbai; Diploma in Visual Communication Design, Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology, Bangalore; Independent Study Programme, Beaconhouse National University, Lahore.

Bad relationships: None; Pets: Prefer to let animals be

How did you end up in Pakistan? And what was the BNU experience like?

Manto, Ismet Aapa (Ismat Chughtai) and Asghar Wajahat are my most favourite writers and their writing was my first introduction to Lahore. Apart from the fascination and shared history it is sense of impossibility that made me desire going to Pakistan so much, especially Lahore. In 2007 SAF (South Asia Foundation) sent a scholarship circular and requested interested female students to apply. The entire process was to be carried out through our current institutes. After getting no response for a month I called up Mr. Karan, the COO of the organization, and he told me how they had wasted months trying to get a candidate who would be interested AND WILLING to go study for 9 months in Lahore. He asked me to immediately send him a hand-written and signed letter stating that I am interested and willing to study at Beaconhouse National University, Lahore.

BNU experience was exhilarating at many levels. I signed in for 3 theory courses with Julia Ahmad – Iconoclasm, Goya, Angels and Devils in Film and Art. These courses exposed me to a very unique method of learning, presenting and understanding subject of much social and visual relevance.

I did not have to attend class everyday, which gave me the opportunity and freedom to work towards 4 city-based projects. I also taught History of Art to 2nd year Jewellery and Architecture students and worked briefly at Human Rights Commission (Child Rights Unit).

an old drawing stolen from Vidha's facebook page

BNU as an institute repeatedly presented opportunities to know the city and its people. I was always unsure and not too aware of my position and presence at BNU and didn’t really make any friends while my stay there. I mean I was friendly and people were friendly too (mostly). Over time I had convinced myself that always felt I did not or could not belong there. To add to it and was very shy to approach people and initiate conversation. Everybody else seemed so much cooler and happening and smart and all knowing that I always wanted to remain invisible and experience everything.

It is so ironic that after 3-4 months of my stay in Lahore I no longer felt that I had arrived from somewhere else to this new city and country but at BNU I still feel like an outsider.

However I must also mention the support I received from the faculty at BNU. Professor Salima Hashmi, Rashid Rana, Sadaf Chughtai, Huma Mulji, David Alesworth, Gwendolyn Kullick, Risham Syed, Nadia Khwaja, Farida Batool, Malcolm Hutcheson, Julia Ahmad, have been very encouraging and appreciative of all that I was doing at the institute. They came for my exhibition openings, offered help and were very forthcoming and helpful in making me realize the few projects I did there. This experience really enriched my work and made me feel very special. It also drew my attention to the fact that there are few Art schools in India that have such dedicated professionals as teachers. Learning gains such a quantum if we have such facilities and opportunities.

Answer in Yes/NO: Is there a secret cult in BNU which teaches students to shoot NCA students with laser beams and decapitate their vital organs or something-to-that-effect? Because I think I’m onto something.

SECRET CULT? At BNU? Which teaches students?

NO. NO! NO! Not at all.

I do not think any such thing exists.None that I am aware of but I think students/peers can be very cruel sometimes say very mean things. At such times I feel l have been thrown back into school amongst the rich, mama’s boy, teacher’s pet, clean and clear meanies.

NCA is a competitive, versatile, and a very open space. An institute like that will always be looked at as the other by students from an institute that is younger, fresher and experimental.

Apparently you like corpulent naked jovial women with lots of love handles and appetites to match. Explain your art with the help of diagrams.

Vidha in VOGUE July 2011, page no. 95

Talk about your recent show.

Over the moon cloud went Jump! Jump!, 2011, Cello Gripper on Chinese paper, 68 x 141.5 cm

The drawings in Love Charades have a come a long way from being very coy with composed shy poses presented in the exhibition Song of the Sirens. ‘Song of the Sirens’ displays a certain anxiety that comes from feeling the need to expose the bodied self, but not being able to go all the way. By contrast, ‘Love Charades’ does not play a precious game of hide-and-seek with social pieties in the matter of the female body, desire or sex. It is about itself; its figures do not trap themselves into performing, even as assigned adversaries, to the scripted expectations of society.

Drawings from the show 'Song of the Sirens' - 2010, image courtesy Grey Noise

Sometimes, the eye wanders away from the theatricality of the performance and settles on the volumetric fact of abstract piles of bodies inflated to the maximum. One is led into a reverie around the body, as it ceases to be the vessel of an individual human subject, and becomes instead a symbol of humankind in extreme states of various kinds, whether abject or delirious.

Making the final preparations for the solo I decided to make some sculptures. For me it was simply an act of digging my fingers into clay and moulding playful versions of the drawings. There was an instinctive need to plumb the depths of the flesh in some way to articulate the libidinal energies implicit in all acts of creation.

There is photo series as well. I wanted to include these other two mediums to create a dialogue within the works and also give the exhibition an added dimension. I’ve played with contrasting dimensions of the works and also their mediums and I hope it communicates my practice.

What about the ‘conversations’ you post on your blogs. What’s happening there?

Rickshaw - photograph Vidha SaumyaThe conversations that appear on the blog are part of a book I published in 2008. It is called Guftagu: gutarrrgoon. This book is a documentation of  short-lived fleeting  encounters with Lahori rickshaw-wallahs. This documentation prompted me to repeat the adventure with their counterparts in Bombay. A few lines from the introduction, “Being a stranger in a country empowers you to look at the city, its people and its culture from a very objective perspective. The ‘unfamiliar’ grants a certain clarity of vision.

The rickshaw is the appropriate metaphor for mobility and nomadism: its open-close architecture strikes the right balance between public-ness and privacy. Rickshaws was my only mode of commuting through Lahore which gave rise to impromptu exchanges and led to further questions, silences and a renewal of inquisitiveness.

“ …Don’t call me from India” said one rickshaw-wallah. “They’ll put me up on inquiry… In fact, you should just delete my number when you leave Pakistan.”

And in Bombay, amidst stories about competing claims of belonging made by the ‘outsiders’ and ‘insiders’ to the city, bomb blasts and riots, emerges a story of exquisite greenness: a rickshaw-wallah takes his young bride from the village on a walk through the city in the rains. In a way it is a research-based project but the intimacy of its ethnographic methodology creates a surplus of poetry, desire and sensorial residues.

Having displayed in both Pakistan and India, what do you find different in the art scene of Lahore and Mumbai?

Apart from being able to serve wine the only difference is that in Mumbai people see exhibition till the last date of the exhibition.

Lahore has some good gallery spaces but only one gallery with a vision and a bigger intent of making a mark and difference.  Mumbai has many competing art galleries hence there is more dialogue here.

I absolutely loved your books and drawings at Grey Noise. Where are the books now? Would they play with my books? My books have ugly naked men who pee on everything.

Explosives enacts an overheated sexual fantasy; but its shock value is blunted through a repeated assault on the senses. In a sense, this book mimics the surfeit of libidinous images that flood the market and infiltrate people’s minds in the age of globalization.  I am fascinating with anything naked.

Explosives 'Series 1', "I Love U Dreams", 2009 - Set of 15 drawings, collectively titled EXPLOSIVES.

Apparently you also like sentence-free words. Let’s try a free verse shall we. A story of 10 lines. No, don’t think. Just go.

Sticking ants to the masking tape

hoping to get my pay cheque

I look at invites

some glossy

some that don’t shine

Seurat long went digital and Duchamp’s

shifted the urinal

Decompression, Intangible Interlocution

Account payee only

Milkstone on screen

The ants are finally biting me

AC switched off

Green stickies adorn the wall

Their end curls

And Saira still insists I go free verse

Which artists do you enjoy looking at, and wish you could stalk – locally and internationally? Who’s your favourite Pakistani artist, Indian Artist, Old dead white artist?

Kiki Smith, Nalini Malani, Wolfgang Laib, Manish Nai, Mehreen Murtaza, Mithu Sen, Sophie Kalle, Orlan, Marjane Satrapi, Will Eisner, Audrey Niffinegger, Dawn Klements, Chris Offilli, Grayson Perry, William Kentridge, Gerard Mermoz, C.K. Rajan, Jyothi Basu, Ratheesh T., Nicola Durvasula, Dayanita Singh, Rachel Whiteread, Pippoliti Rist. Tyeb Mehta, Wolfgang Laib.

My favourite right now are Wolfgang Laib and Rachel Whiteread.

Do you save ‘bad’ drawings? Ones you know totally wasted that sheet of paper. I can’t seem to throw them away.  They just might become good ‘bad’ drawings when we’re famous or dead, or both.

I use bad drawings as rag, wrapping paper or soaking oil. 

Can drawing save the world?

The idea of drawing can lead to some great possibilities.



Installation views(Love Charades) – Photographs by Anil Rane
Installation views(Song of the Sirens) – Aacif Khan
Images of drawings – © Vidha Saumya

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