Hamama Tul Bushra is a Pakistani artist whose work explores motifs and themes of empowerment, liberation and female emancipation; offering poignant commentaries on role that South Asian women have and continue to play in shaping culture, politics and other aspects of society as we know it. We recently spoke to Hamama in order to get some further insight into her artistic process and to learn more about the causes that she champions.
Tell us a little about this project.
My subject matter is women, a construct that exists in every gender. I pick the subjects from my surroundings and locate what is hidden and forbidden in peculiar personalities. Their characteristics are emphasized by the way they sit with confidence and self-assurance and is reflected in their body language.
I grew up in Lahore, Pakistan, when the political period was difficult and unstable. The country was shifting its central policy of administration from democracy to dictatorship and Islamization, robbing the soul and identity of its people. This change damaged the rich cultural and social fabric of the society, and the harmful effects were most profound for women.
As a young girl, I felt the oppression and discrimination in various situations, however, I accepted it as a cultural norm of the society until years later when I moved abroad. Covid isolation shifted my energies from my doctoral program to painting. The confinement compelled me to look at and think about my surroundings and pay attention to the political and social conditions against the backdrop of my own cultural and social conditioning.
As a woman of the Pakistani diaspora, I started comparing the role of a woman in different societies and realized that, historically, woman are controlled as a commodity and subject to ownership. Thus, I started questioning and confronting the stereotypical idea and convictions of the patriarchal society of South Asia through my paintings.
Being a woman, I understood the emotions that surfaced on the canvas. The women in my work are their own inspiration. They realize and recognize their potential and celebrate themselves as complete people. I challenge societal rules by examining heteronormativity. I like to work around the social, cultural and religious issues concerning people. For me, a woman encompasses a whole; all the genders within one body, therefore, I use her as a form to express what is happening around me. I celebrate the binary tension by painting the figures in traditional clothes, embracing culture, with bright colors and local patterns covering the surface and with accentuating accessories. The ownership of identity and its proclamation is significant in my work.
Describe your creative process and the purpose with which you create.
My creative process is organic. My art practice centers around women and their placement in an occupied space, be it with someone, in isolation, or accompanied by books and/or cats. How they pose in front of the audience are most important for me, as it should be questionable or confrontational to challenge the viewer. If I see a certain visual or pose, whether I see it in my surroundings or in a picture, it gets stuck in my head and I use it as a message or a statement to provoke the sentiments or make the viewer uneasy. The purpose of my painting is very internal and selfish; I paint for my own satisfaction. It helps me to explore myself within and my own thoughts in hues. I think I cannot say better in words what I say in color. I realize it especially when I hear interpretations of my work and how people, especially women, feel connected to my subjects.
What are some of your biggest inspirations and influences over the course of your artistic career so far?
I think I’d like to say that my biggest influences as an artist are my own early memories and experiences. The thoughts and questions regarding women’s identities, and their role in a society, as well as the expectations imposed on them through social or religious perspectives, compel me to express them visually. I had these queries in my mind as a child and even as a young adult, but never tried to examine or address. They are coming back to me now, which is why I put them out on canvas for myself and my viewers.
Over the years, I have been inspired not just by the painters but poets, philosophers, designers and even my sisters and my mother. They all contributed to the way I think and look at things. These inspirations kept on presenting themselves in various ways. But at the outset of my artistic journey, I would credit Modigliani as my strongest inspiration. It was his work that motivated me to start painting faces and portraits. As my practice progressed, I found Klimt, Schiele, Matisse and Amrita Shergil as major sources of inspiration.
What are some things you learned while putting this project together?
What I thought I was doing for myself was also resonating with others, and their responses to my work is both encouraging and reassuring. My work exists in the right time and place for its content. I found that the defined boundaries of what is considered art or fine art are getting blurred. Any method that expresses or conveys a message or a thought purely and honestly, which stirs emotions and gives food for your thought, is art. That which makes a significant difference in one’s life is art. Social media has provided ample avenues and opportunities for everyone to participate.
Who are some artists who are currently on your radar?
New artists are inspirational and are creating thought provoking art. I am not working with any artist right now but expect to have a collaboration with artists from a different medium soon.
Tell us about a project you wish you were a part of.
I would like to be a part of exhibitions in India as well as art projects in Dubai, as my subject and themes are very local, connected to South Asian heritage.
You can follow Hamama here.
If you enjoyed this, here's more from Homegrown: