UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL WITH RISHAM HOSAIN SYED

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ALIZAH RAZA SPEAKS TO THE ARTIST AND TEACHER ABOUT MINIATURE PAINTING, TEACHING AND HER MENTORS

When did you realize a career as an Artist was for you?
I did my BA in Maths and Economics from Kinnaird College, and after doing an internship in a corporate setup I figured out it was something I wasn’t cut out to do. At that point that was the only thing I was clear about. Following my heart, I went to NCA. A career in art wasn’t on the horizon as far as I was concerned. I realized that drawing was something I engaged with in a meaningful way and so I thought it was a good idea to stay with it. As my commitment with art practice intensified , the idea of art as a career followed.

What is your background and training?
I majored in Painting and also studied Miniature Painting and Printmaking at the National College of Arts, and then did my masters in painting from the Royal College of Art, London.

What are your favourite mediums to work with?
Well, the contemporary art practice is idea led. One chooses the medium that expresses the idea in the best possible way. I work with all sorts of materials like found objects, textiles and the painted surface. Having said, that painting remains central to my art practice.  The painted surfaces are like quotations from art history providing a reference point for a dialogue with the present. Usually the found objects or pieces of textile ‘frame’ or contextualize the painted surface. By quoting from art history, I’m commenting on the history of painting along with the social and political history of the period the painting belongs to.

Does it hurt you to sell pieces you love?!
Well, initially in ones career one felt possessive about ones works. As you grow older you realize that the only way you can share your work (which is really the idea behind making it) is by letting go of it.

Who are your favourite artists – both Pakistani and international?
If I start naming them, the list would be endless. As an art student, one is always influenced by art in art history books, catalogues, museums and galleries. My teachers Zahoor Ul Akhlaq, Salima Hashmi, Lalarukh and Quddus Mirza have been influential throughout. Hieronymus Bosch, Vermeer, Gauguin, Manet, Mark Chagall, Rothko, Frida Kahlo, Rene Magritte, Agnes Martin. Bridget Riley, Anslem Keifer, Amrita Shergill, Arpita Singh, Nalini Malani, Gerhard Richter, Nasreen Mohamedi, Rauschenburg, Louise Bourgeois, William Kentridge, Marina Abramovic, Jenny Holzer, Alighiero Boetti, Vija Celmins, Amar Kanwar, Barbara Kruger, Mona Hatoum, Olafur Eliasson, Grayson Perry, Elmgreen and Dragset are a few of the names that I can think off the top of my head.

You also teach at BNU. What classes do you teach?
I have been teaching at BNU for the last eight years or so. Before that I taught at the NCA. I teach a fine arts major studio course and a drawing course.

What role does the Artist have in society?
The role of an Artist in society is that of any thinking, responsible person. The Artist only has special tools with which they express themselves.

Is there a Pakistani art movement happening currently?
Art is reflective of the social, political and economic conditions/situation of a region, and so that’s what contemporary Pakistani artists also speak about in their work. But I wouldn’t call it a Pakistani art movement. It’s becoming more and more global in its presentation. There is of course the ‘Neo-Miniature movement, the seeds of which were sown by the legendary Artist Zahoor-ul Akhlaq a long time ago.

How do you balance work life with your personal life?
I’m very fortunate to be have an extremely supportive and understanding family. My husband readily volunteers to take care of the kids when I’m traveling. When the kids were younger and I had already started working, he organized his work schedule around mine to facilitate me with my work. I tend to work late at night after the kids are asleep and it’s all quiet. So without the support of my husband, parents, in laws and friends I wouldn’t be able to manage!

Who is your mentor?
That would have to be my father and, of course, my teachers Zahoor ul Akhlaq, Salima Hashmi and Quddus Mirza.

When you’re not working you are..
I’m either with my family or in the park/gym.

What do you love most about living in Lahore?
I’ve lived all my life here in Lahore. It’s a love-hate relationship, a duality which is complicated, but in the end it’s exciting and intoxating because there is a fine line between love and hate.  I curse myself when I see what’s happening to the city but if I were to close my eyes and think of another place where I could live, it’s an exercise in futility!

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