Up Close and Personal with Ali Kazim

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Over a cup of delicious flower tea, Amani Noor Iqbal sits down for a chat with the internationally acclaimed visual artist

How would you describe your journey into the art world?

My interest in art was present since an early age. As a young student I was informed that in Patoki, there were artists present who painted film boards. These unseen characters became heroes in my imagination, and soon after my primary schooling I moved to the city and apprenticed with these painters during my Summer break. After seeing wood being carved in a movie, my next goal was to learn wood work, and fortunately I had the NCA and began the next chapter of my life.

You started at NCA, and moved on to The Slade School of Fine Art, In London. What are the different qualities both institutes taught you?

NCA allowed me to be free, to investigate and to explore my practice. I was allowed to experiment as much as I wanted to, as there were no restrictions and no censorship. Slade, on the other hand, taught me discipline and commitment, as I was there for my Masters. It taught me how one should value their time, and showed me the beautiful quality of equality.

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Although you have been trained as a painter, you have a diverse range of mediums you work in. How did this change happen?

A common thread in my work, whether it is figurative or non-figurative, has been the investigation of materials. When I make any piece, I cannot begin my process unless the material has a dialogue with the work. This investigation leads you itself, to the content of what you produce. Materials carry so many qualities if you explore them. Simultaneously, drawing is another area of interest which has been coherent in my practice. I try not to be conscious about the rules we are taught during our training, such as, composition, shadow, volume etc. The raw look I achieve from pigment, clay, and human hair was not being met by oils or acrylics, hence the switch.

Your works have been collected by the largest museums in the world, including the British Museum, Victoria & Albert and the New York Metropolitan. what advice can you give to aspiring artists to reach such heights?

Whether you are an artist, writer, philosopher, or in any field of work for that matter, the key is commitment. Nothing should come between your work and what you have set out to achieve. Secondly, hard work. I have never experienced working hard and not being awarded for it.

What is your experience of teaching at the National College of Arts been like? How do you manage your studio time alongside teaching?

Unfortunately, sometimes there is a gap between how much time I would like to give in the studio, because teaching requires a lot of commitment. At NCA I am constantly learning from my students as well, as it’s an institution offering lots of freedom. Pakistani artists still have a long way to go internationally, hence most practicing artists teach in different institutes while trying to balance their own lives.

If you could select five people to have dinner with, who would they be?

This is quite a tough question! Well- the Punjabi poet Shiv Kumar Batalvi, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan Sahib, Louise Bourgeouis, Mona Hatoum and Kiki Smith.

Who are some Pakistani artists to watch out for?

There are many talented young artists out there, however I feel they still need to be observed, and require some time before one can know who will seriously make it in the art world and stay committed to their practice.

If you could have any one piece of art, who’s would it be and where would you hang it?

I would love to spend some with Gandhara art and sculptures. They transport you into another time. One where there was no art business and art was created out of pure love and devotion. I wouldn’t want to take home any piece, as they belong there. I would simply just feel privileged to spend time with them.

What do you love about Lahore?

Lahore is such a historical city with utmost beauty. What I love most is the pace of the lifestyle in Lahore, as I feel it truly matches mine.

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What future projects and shows are in store for you?

I feel I have just touched the tip of my recent body of work, which includes methods of ceramic as well as drawing with pigment. I still wish to explore this for a few years ahead investigating all possibilities.

Amani Noor Iqbal

Amani is a writer, blogger, and passionate art enthusiast. You can visit her blog on Instagram @picassoteaandme

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