Pakistan’s art scene might initially seem restricted from the outside, but after going through the works of many contemporary Pakistani artists, we have seen the silver lining they all do: being at such a nascent stage, there’s a lot of freedom for those who are talented and truly dedicated to rise to the top.
“Pakistan is a good place to be, for an artist,” comic book artist Babrus Khan (aka Babman) says. “Everything is just starting here. If you’re good at what you do, you get a lot of appreciation, while abroad, the industry is very saturated. With all the recognition comes responsibility, and it might feel burdening at times... I realized that people actually look up to me and that I have to be more responsible about what I say and do.”
Events like the first-ever ‘Red Bull Canvas Cooler’ exhibition which took place in Lahore in 2016 have been a shot in the arm for the art space, as it brought together 12 individuals of Pakistan’s art world — many of whom are featured in our piece — to treat coolers as canvases, and create something interesting in a span of two weeks. From graphic novels to design that embodies social responsibility, it’s an intriguing collection we have collected here for you; check it out:
Mehreen Murtaza’s work often shirks reality to embrace many themes and forms exploring concepts of ‘occult, mysticism, magic and posthuman dreams that are no longer the stuff of science fiction’. With her past work spanning many mediums and tinged with a multi-dimensional twist, the premise for her work lays in ‘dream logics, alternative knowledge, uncertain histories and the creative production of new and perhaps imaginary information where a conception of the alternative reality is expressed into the realm of an exhibition scenario’.
While this is certainly one for those willing to dive deep and take the leap, her visual vocabulary addresses many different social and political issues, and is quite a rabbit hole to go down.
Mehreen Murtaza completed her BFA with Honors from Beaconhouse National University, Lahore, in May 2008, received a post graduate diploma in teaching from Beaconhouse National University in 2009; she has been a participant of the HomeWorkspace program led by Jalal Toufic and Anton Vidokle at AshkalAlwan, Beirut, Lebanon. Murtaza was accepted for the Gasworks Residency in 2010, the Royal Over-Seas League (ROSL) Arts TravelScholarship at Generator Projects, Hospitalfield House, Arbroath, Scotland, & London, UK, 2013 and has a long list of credits and residecies to her name.
She is represented by Grey Noise, Dubai and Experimenter, Kolkata.
HG loves the complete disregard for reality as most people accept it, in Mehreen’s work which is teeming with wisdom of one who understands that it is possible sometimes to derive a different facet of the truth from fiction and alternative histories. Check out her work to know more, it speaks much louder than words can.
II. Naiha Raza
A digital artist with a flair for game art and development, Naiha has worked on many acclaimed games such as Fruit Ninja, Blades of Battle, Order of Elements and Jetpack Joyride, for both local and international markets. Her work has received a nod from renowned artists like Tom Woodruff Jr (the artist working on titles like Alien vs. Predator, The Terminator, Jurassic Park, Jumanji and more) from Stan Winston School of Character Arts, with one of her pieces being picked up for a live drawing by the talented Artgerm (Cofounder of Imaginary Friends Studios) from Singapore.
Her atmospheric and forward-thinking work stays with you. On her process, she says, “I believe that digital is a new and more acceptable medium for professionals, especially in the production industry, where quick paintings are required. Traditional media is also rewarding, but to actually build a career in games, digital is the way to go.”
While she laments the lack of mentors and quality movies and games to work on in Pakistan, her open-minded and versatile approach can derive inspiration from ‘everything and anything’, and she is of the opinion, “As an artist, one must learn about the world if they want to create new ones.”
HG loves her love for games, and how she is open to expanding her horizons. Her characters are rich in detailing, and come alive with the dimension she gives them.
III. S.M. Raza
An independent visual artist, illustrator and muralist who lives and works in Karachi, S.M. Raza has an overwhelming body of work in range and depth; you can check out his qualifications, major projects and art residencies here.
Raza was a part of creating Pakistan’s first animated movie ‘3 Bahadur’, directed and produced by the internationally acclaimed Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy; he spends most of his time on larger-than-life murals, though, such as his tribute to Amjad Sabri or the nuanced portrait of poverty, hunger and famine he painted while retaining a perspective that highlights why art can make life more bearable, and liveable. He is currently working as a Concept Artist at Waadi Animations.
HG loves the multi-dimensional approach of his work, which is capable of capturing the finer details of a complex issue without obscuring the truth.
[Follow S.M. Raza on Facebook.]
IV. Jibran Shahid
A student at National College of Arts, Rawalpindi, Jibran has been immersed in the art world for a long time, hailing from a family in which his whole family is involved in the line; with his father being a graduate from the same college with a degree in ceramics, his mother being an artist, a painter, and a ceramicist, and his sister having just acquired a Master’s degree in Miniature Painting.
“As a result, I have been into the art world for a long time and have taken art seriously since my A-Levels, back in 2010, at Froebels International school Islamabad, Pakistan,” he says. With a major in sculpting, he is open to a range of mediums including charcoal, pencils, pastels, watercolour, acrylic, oil, ceramics, wooden sculpture and stone carving, etc., but he cites personal favourites as charcoal pencils for drawing, oils and water in painting, and direct methods for sculptures.
HG loves the classic surreal quality to his work, and the majestic detailing of some of his paintings and portraits.
V. Sanki King (Abdullah Ahmed Khan)
Known as Sanki King, 22-year-old Abdullah Ahmed Khan is a self-made graffiti artist in Pakistan who is often credited with being the pioneer of graffiti art in the country; he is also a member of an old-school American graffiti crew in New York, Beyond Mankind Krew (BMK). 2006 marked his foray into graffiti, when he became serious about hip-hop and its various elements, including Parkour and B-boying.
When it comes to his art, he learnt a lot through online tutorials, and first learnt to draw sketches before expanding his canvas to sneakers and other mediums. “I started out with painting shirts, moved next to bags — but realised that you need space to paint on bags, and this one experiment wasn’t too fruitful — but it’s only recently that I’ve started out with graffiti on sneakers with markers, paints and stencils!” he declares excitedly.
Sanki King was also the first one to do live graffiti in public in Pakistan, at the Karachi International Food and Culture Festival at the Beach View Club Park, back in 2012.
His next goal is now to paint a bus. “I will do this soon for sure, starting with the abandoned buses near my home in North Nazimabad,” he says, with excitement.
HG loves the long list of talents and credits to this multi-talented artist’s name, who has broken new ground in Pakistan with his chunky, old-school style.
Hasan Gilani is a fascinating figure in the Pakistani art scene, albeit relatively obscure. Delving deep into pencil works exploring the human figure, abstract pen works while dabbling in photography as well, the multi-talented artist has also been DJ-ing for six years.
HG loves that the artist’s constantly experimenting with different mediums.
VII. Raza Bukhari
Raza Bukhari is an artist whose work is an incisive look at current society against the backdrop of history, with a splash of humour thrown in. Visually intricate and layered with ideas related to complex religious and political issues, it includes mixed media, archival prints, and portrays a special interest in Persian carpets.
“My art is a powerful interpretation of my deepest thoughts, love, sex, violence and strongest desires,” Raza, who was brought up in Iran, said. “Pictures for me are equivalent to feelings, things that can’t be expressed in words. Artwork is a glimpse of how my life is divided between cultures, everything that we see is filtered by conditioning”
His approach to art involves a conscious effort to never ‘confine into a certain mould or technique while working’, and he explains, “If you keep on thinking about your work in terms of how wrong or right it is or if it has flaws, you are going the wrong way.”
He names Damien Hirst and Mahmoud Farshchia as inspirational figures, ‘who are worlds apart in terms of their work and style’.
HG loves the thought-provoking themes Raza’s work deals with, and the sheer range of his experiments with different mediums like photo transfer, gouache on wasli, digital and archival prints, carpets, and metal, each one of whis he says speaks its own language.
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Featured artwork by SM Raza