An Interview With Wardha Shabbir  Contemporary Visual Artist  Visiting Assistant Professor, National College Of Arts 

Orange and yellow why did you choose these two colors in most of your work?

Stemming from my interest in the myriad contradictions that inform human behavior, the path, or “Siraat,” has come to inform some of my recent work. Following this notion of the path, I take reference from the everyday ‘Maps’ that we see around us, both the physical markings and the non-physical realm of the mind. We construct maps for almost about everything, not just to help us familiarize ourselves with our own space, but also as a medium for markings, such as an incident, the future, and experiences. Various arrangements of foliage form relations with points, lines, and surfaces that connect space to formulate the ‘organic geometry’ in my recent work. Similar to the foliage growing in these motifs,  my journey as a Pakistani woman artist signifies an abundance of growth. The elements of my subjective experiences create interactive imagery that unveils itself gradually to the observer’s eye: formulating his/her own ‘visual vocabulary. Having used surrounding spaces as a continuity of my canvass, I have moved on to create new ‘spaces’ within the paintings themselves, in form of passages, enclosures, and sometimes even light.  Abundant use of ‘blue’ incorporates the element of light, a symbol of spirituality and connecting with the sky, referring to the free state of mind in which we don’t have any geographical boundaries.

Light can never have boundaries nor it can be enclosed within a structure, however, it can be contained to an extent. I am trying to explore light by using this color in my paintings and installations.

It’s about creating an objective experience, but it all comes from where I am rooted. The color yellow is the color of light I see around, it represents my geographical identity. It becomes part of my artwork in a very natural way. This color has been part of my present and parallel time, my living present, and my memory. Therefore, it usually becomes the core base of my work but I don’t choose this color to be part of my compositions- deliberately.

  Yellow, also helps me to invite the viewer from a distance toward my very small and intricate paintings.


Tell us something about the art scene in Pakistan and life in Lahore as an artist 

 Pakistan has brilliant artists; it has unbelievable talent all across the country

.Pakistan has a very small art circle, and everyone almost knows everyone. 

The pioneer of arts is National College of Arts (NCA) where I graduated and now proudly teaching as well. Many of the senior practicing artists who are well known in the world as well have been part of the fraternity as students and have taught here as well.

This is what is unique about Pakistani artists most of them serve as a teacher as well in various institutes.

I am very lucky to be situated in Lahore, like me many artists have chosen this historical city as their residence and practicing hub. Lahore has greatly influenced my work, much of the imagery is constructed through my daily visual reference to the foliage around this city. But not only the trees but the yellow light has also played a very vital role in my practice as well.

This link to my interview made for the Jameel Art Prize (Victoria & Albert Museum London) will help you understand more about what I have to say about the city. Please feel free to use this video but do give credits.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bxDBTLvqdpw (this will also answer the use of yellow and orange colour)

Which artwork is the closest to you and how it relates to your personality?

This one, actually this whole installation that I created at the Jameel Art Centre Dubai for the Jameel art prize- Victoria and Albert Museum,.

The whole space was a dark room in which these bright small paintings were floating at different levels and from a distance, it seems like light lamps that help invite the viewers from a distance towards themselves and on coming closer it reveals the intricate details of a miniature painting.

This particular painting is of a cube, surrounded by a cluster of birds. When I drew these little creatures on the wall and saw the whole motion of them coming around the painting – it seemed like water to me… how naturally they were coming towards the Omni sun and circumambulating the cube. This has a meaning in significance in Islamic tradition as well, the cube enclosed in a circle represents the Kaaba as well but here my painting is just not that it represents many things. The life and experiences one have in its journey.

What fuels your imagination what makes it so bright?

As I have already pointed towards the geographical placement of myself, my surroundings, and especially my experiences as a female practicing artist living and working in Pakistan. It’s not easy to balance while you are living in such a strict cultural atmosphere and now becoming a mother as well keeps me very busy and how I have to take time out for myself in which I can just focus and work- it’s a struggle these days and the pandemic is adding more to it.

I hope this all gets over soon and we get to our normal selves. I find myself busier in the pandemic and the anxiety is really not helping to focus on my work.

What are the tools and techniques you apply in your artworks?

The technique I follow is of miniature painting, I have been trained in the hundred years old techniques of rendering various dots together and forming an image, the process of rendering is called the ‘pardakht’. It’s a very slow and time taking process of sitting for long hours and constructing an image for months. The brushes I use dare of squirrel hair for the final and most intricate detailed work.

What would be the shortest definition of contemporary arts and what made you choose this form of art?

I never choose this nor I have ever pre-decided. I started producing art when I was a student and since then I have been in an intimate dialogue between my work and myself. It has opened new horizons of knowledge and how beautiful and powerful our mind is. 

My works hold my fingers and I follow, the work decides where it will go next. It evolves with patience and time. You learn a few new things with a new painting and at times you also unlearn some traditions to create something absolutely new or contemporary. However, my work has become minimalistic with time. Maybe because of the understanding of my subject as well the more I became clear, the simpler the imagery is.

When did you realize you are an artist?

Since I was a child, I always wanted to go to NCA (National College Of Arts), when someone used to ask me what I want to be when I grow up I always replied, I don’t know but I want to get admission at NCA and my dream came true, I worked really hard to prepare for the exam. I was always good with drawing and creative activities but it is such a difficult question for me.. I don’t know how to answer it, Am I An Artist?

It’s more like a label..maybe I would call myself someone who communicates in visuals rather than words.


Any message to emerging artists around the world?

Always believe in your dreams and never ever give up.


What are you currently working on ?

Currently working on a few very interesting and exciting projects for next year

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