Notes from a Biennial -Appendix [ii] Aisha Khalid & I
by Guy Mannes-Abbott
Aisha Khalid & I by Guy Mannes-Abbott
Conversation at Sharjah Art Museum Sharjah UEA March 2011
Guy Mannes-Abbott [gma]
Let’s begin with your piece hanging in the entrance foyer of the Sharjah Art museum, Kashmiri Shawl ?
Aisha Khalid [ak]
There is a whole story behind this piece I did, this shawl.
I had this bad experience then [the first supplier of the pins supplied ones that rusted quickly] and after this I got very short of time and I really needed people to help me. I was looking for people who can come and help me; there was one girl who used to assist me in my work two years before. I phoned her and she came and she started working with me; she’s very dedicated. She started work from the morning, 7 o’clock to two thirty in school -she’s teaching in school -and after school she came to me and from 3 o’clock to 11 o’clock at night, she works with me.
And then I got to know that she’s from Kashmir! Yes! -and then she brought the other girl, who is a textile designer and, just by accident, she’s also from Kashmir! Then there was two boys who came, in the end we seven were working on this. Two boys; one was a carpenter, the other was a polish person who polishes the furniture and there was another guy who made embroidery on this, for the commercial purpose. So the combination of people, it was so amazing. There was one sports teacher, one from textile designing, one girl is a miniature painter who is teaching in the art college, myself and then the carpenter, the polish person, then the embroidery person. You see?
gma That is amazing!
ak Yes! So then it was all stretched on the frame, and we would all sit around that frame and work. And the most amazing thing is that, we’d work around 16 hours, from 9 o’clock I’d start ‘til ten, eleven, twelve o’ clock sometimes one or two o’clock, we’d finish like that. The whole day the conversation was so interesting. The problem of the people it’s very different, and they just sit and talk, two or three people were not educated, the other women were more educated but everyone was on a similar level in that time.
I also realised that it is also a part of the tradition in Kashmir and other rural areas in Pakistan, that the women work on one shawl together, and that’s also their social event. So they gather, in one place, they make embroidery and they chat.
So everyday they finish their homework and then they come in someone’s house and they sit together, make embroideries and share their thoughts and discuss their problems. You see? So the whole making, it became like that, it was not the intention, it came up like that... So it was very nice also.
gma So, was the time-consuming part to do with the placing of the pins and building up of the pattern?
ak Yes, because I follow the pattern and it’s a very very slow process of making it, with one pin, one by one, you put in one pin and then the other and other, it’s like that...
gma Are the pins stitched in then -or anything?
ak It’s not stitched in, the pins are just [she indicates they’re pushed into place]...
gma You were telling me earlier that there are four layers?
ak Yes! Four layers. There are two shawls, one black and one red and then there are two fabrics inside...
gma So that’s what holds the pins...
ak Yeh and this piece is about what’s happening in Kashmir because whenever I travel to the West I was always take for my friends, Kashmiri scarf or shawl, something like that. If I ask someone, what shall I bring for you, they always say Kashmiri shawl or something. And I also saw that it’s high fashion in west, it’s a very expensive thing; pashmina, Kashmiri wool, it’s like, you know 100% Kashmir wool ... So, it’s all over the world but people don’t think about where this beauty and this luxury is coming from, and how the people are suffering. No-one is thinking about that and it’s a very bad situation in Kashmir -Occupied Kashmir, Indian Occupied Kashmir, I must say- every day they are killing people and on the media they say these are the rebels, but they are just fighting for their rights! After 1995 there’s no elections in Kashmir happened, and those were also fake elections, they did not allow everyone to participate in those elections, they are showing to media very different situation but actual situation is very different.
gma There are more than 100,000 Indian army troops in Kashmir right now, no?
ak Yes in Kashmir, yes yeh. So, I was just thinking that one side of this shawl is black with the gold, you see and you feel like it’s a beautiful embroidered fabric. When you see the other side, you can’t see from here, you see the other side is red and with the sharp edges of pins. So always it’s like making beauty and keeping it, you have to give something for that, a price for that. So they are trading these shawls but what’s happening with those people, no-one is concerned about.
gma They’re also very cheap, sometimes!
ak Yes! You can get something also very cheap!...
gma Pashmina comes from the baby goat’s throat [indicates with fingers on stubble!], no?
ak Yes yes yeh
gma Only from there?
ak They say only, but that’s really expensive actually, the very thin shawls yes.
And the baby goat’s hair also is very expensive and rare, but mostly it comes from the goat. Also the name of the goat is a kashmir.
gma Is it?!
ak Yeh, the spelling of Ca- is given by the British. The actual Kashmir spelling is a K. I got it that they wanted to keep it away from the actual Kashmir, not connect it with that; it’s a very political thing I think.
gma How many hours, so-called man-hours, do you think went in to that shawl?
ak Every day? Sixteen hours at least.
gma And for how many days?
ak Forty days.
gma Really? Just for the placing of the pins?
ak Just the placing of the pins.
gma Wow, that’s amazing! Multiplied by many people...
ak Yeh, my fingers get like, you see, now they are moving still [holds out hand which is quivering] it’s better but it’s still not stable...
ak Yes, constantly doing this. But it’s also a very meditative process, very meditative. It also gives you like a feeling of something, when you make beauty there’s also the pain, like this you know?
Someone asked me question once; you talk about something; pain, but your work is very beautiful, Why’s that? So I was thinking that the beauty of the tradition is part of our everyday life actually. Embroidery, other things, and there are still people who really love the tradition and they want to keep that. Tradition doesn’t mean that things are frozen, it develops with the time and it’s part of the culture, religion...
gma And of the hand; it’s hand made as a process.
ak Hand made process and it’s something that you, your heart involves...
gma Is there gold in Pakistan itself?
ak Yes, yes, we have gold, not a lot, but we have gold mines, and emerald mines.
ak Yes, in Swat, we have emeralds.
gma And so under the gold, the pins are steel?
ak Yes, they are steel pins and it was long process to do the gold plating on these pins. We don’t have machines so the gold plating is all done by hand. In that process they have to tie every pin separately, so twelve people were working on the gold plating and they were working day and night for me. Just the plating, because time was short and so everyday they were working like that...
gma Do you know how many pins there were in the end?
ak It’s around, hmm [long silence while AK thinks]
Let me work it out... [taps out on a calculator on phone] ... [silence] It’s about 300,000, 360,000...
gma That many!
gma So it must have been very expensive? I mean it’s a very interesting process; something very expensive that is all hand made...
ak Yes, it is very expensive. It cost a bit more, this is I think the first piece I made with such an expensive cost.
gma Was it a commission?
ak Yes, it’s a commission by Sharjah Foundation, Biennial.
gma Was it always conceived as it is, i.e hanging vertically? [AK made an earlier related piece of a jacket with the pins on the inside, and I’m not sure that the use of the shawl as an item of clothing, something to be worn, is understood instinctively by a more western/global audience, even those with a stock of pashmina!]
ak Yes I saw this space and they invited me to come and see this space and do some project for this area, they said you can take any space. But I especially liked this space, because it is surrounded by arches and columns. So I thought this piece, to keep in mind this space. It will hang, it will be like floating in the air...
gma It must have been quite hard to hang, technically, it must be very heavy?
ak Very heavy, it’s around 40 kilos. It was hard to hang it, there’s a very strong rod inside, which is hidden...
gma Do you think it will hold, you know, essentially flat?
ak No, there is a fold. I want to show that because it is a fabric, it should look like a live thing not hang hard and straight.
gma Do you think people might steal some of the pins?
ak Yeh, but I can’t do anything [laughs demurely] this is very tempting because they want to come and touch -especially from the back side
gma Are they sharp to touch?
ak They’re sharp, yes, they hurt also.
gma So there’s a nice link between the context in which this is hanging here and some of your old work, with architecture, perspective, geometry?
ak Yes I feel the process is almost the same, the repetition. In my other work there is also repetition, through geometrical repetition ... there is also pattern but different pattern and the process is also one by one, it’s the same process, very meditative. If I see the whole process is the same, but the content is different; this is a more political piece. My other work is more about spirituality and love with God and relationship between the God and men ... And this piece is about for the humans here, existing, living.
gma It reminded me a bit of the work in Kabul, the floral-bullet piece [at the Queen’s Palace in the Bagh-i Babur], a similarly indirect but nevertheless clear statement.
ak Yes, that was also about Kabul and the violence and after all this experience.
I feel that whenever I am invited to some place where I know that it’s a big platform where people come and see the work, it’s my responsibility to say something which can be useful for to help someone. Like I did in Kabul, was about the people of Kabul.
I did something in Venice Bienalle that was for the western people. Face It. I did one installation called Face It; there was a mirror and there was a bullet impression on the mirror and people come and stand in front of the mirror and they see that bullet holes on their body. And the background was camouflage and the mirror had like a red so it was like a wound on your own body and your face. So that was called Face It. So that was for the Westerner, what you are doing there, you just keep that on yourself and think about that.
So I feel that art has a power and if I feel it’s my power I think I should use that.
gma I really enjoy the subtlety of it as well, I think it’s peculiarly resonant. In a sense, you have to figure out what it is you are saying, what your statement is yourself -as a viewer- but because it’s so subtle it goes in in a different way, no?
ak When you see the work?
ak Yeh it is subtle, it is subtle.
But that’s also part of the personality I think. I feel that if you talk about violence it doesn't mean you show the violence. If you talk about something bad, some ugly thing, so how can you show the ugly thing. You know? You can talk in a different way, like the poet’s do, in poetry. They talk about pain and everything but in a very rhythmic way, very beautiful words, you know, sometimes. The art should also be like that ... doesn't mean I should show the blood there. I can say the same thing in a beautiful way. That is ... that is about the language, the way of talking of one person, about the personality. So if I talk about spirituality, or bad things, it doesn't mean I start abusing people, you know? I have to see what I am, and what’s my language, and what’s a good thing and in that I will transfer my thoughts to the other people.
gma It’s almost as though it fits with the meditative quality of your work, that it’s a long considered view that will last forever, in a sense, you know? I mean as opposed to it being this year’s particular event that you want to make a statement about.
ak Yeh! Yes, yes, yes and because the art work is like, when someone sees it they take it with their own experience. When I see some art work I just enjoy it and take it and relate it with my own experience. So there should be this openness in the art work that everyone can enjoy and take it. It’s not like a journalism, where you just take a picture of an event and...
gma When I first read some of Mourid Barghouti’s poems to Sanna [Wennberg], I read six poems which work in a similar way; he never says who the enemy is, you know? It’s kind of clear, but it’s not obvious. So I read five or six and looked at her and she was crying and I think your work works like that, at that level...
ak Yes, yes, yes, it happens. If something touches your heart, that also lasts longer. It’s not just you see and that’s it, but you go back and it will be with you in time. It’s like poetry...
Like I was talking to Suzanne [Cotter] about my work. She was just hanging the work, fixing the lights, and she said ‘how do you feel?’ I said, I don’t know I can’t relate to my work now when it’s hanging in on the wall, because the time I spend with my work is so nice and that process is everything for me. I don’t know what in the end is happening. I’m just you know, in that process...
So now, I don’t know, it’s very far from me now. But she said, for me it’s not like that, the energy that you expend in that work, I am getting that energy through your work, which was a big compliment for me. That, yeh, that I think is something that I want...
gma It’s true, especially with this new series. Also, when you look closely at it you can see the hand, the hand-madeness of it...
ak Yeh [affectionately] Otherwise it looks like a computer generated...
gma Yes, could do!
Actually, can I go back a little bit and build back up to the current work.
I was thinking that there’s a marked difference between much of the early work, which was more to do with human space, the figure partly, or not! but writing paper and smaller scale things like that. So I was wondering about the relationship between surface and content of the work; there seems to have been a shift which is especially evident in Pattern to Follow in general and even more in these particular new works [four very honed, condensed works in the series, see images]...
ak Yes, yeh, this shift came not suddenly, it came with the time.
My work is directly tied with my life, what happens around me just come up through this. It’s like a diary writing for me, so this work, some elements came from there, but I think it’s time. That work was about the social and political and then very personal. Personal in a way, emotional. But this work is something above that, like those things are no more, you know, those personal problems, personal likes or dislikes, relationships with the people, are no more, no longer erm, important, that level for me, now.
Now, because all work is also about love. That was about love with people, but now that love is much more than that -is converted into something else. I am trying to explore something else now, in this universe, about the God; the actual human, not person but human.
gma The scale is hugely expanded.
ak Yes yes. So the colour and perspective that I use now is different.
gma Yes, can I ask you about that, because I was walking around with Walid Raad and we were going through, and one of the things he said about your work was ‘very interesting palette of colours’. So this series is all green, black and gold, red too before...
ak Red is less now, it’s more black and green and gold. The black is for me an infinite colour, endless space, it can be for the God, you know? It’s endless, you can’t find it out, there’re no boundaries in the black colour.
The green is air, the colour of air, it’s also ease and ... yeh. The specific colour of the palette, the green I got it through mixing, not mixing, but using three different green tones together. This green is because of that black and three tones of green and gold and without that I can’t get this green. This is because of all that gold and black and three tones...
gma Ok I see what you mean, so on the canvas there’s three versions or elements of green present, yeh. So the impression that creates is the tone no?
ak Yes yes. So this is about, I’m thinking of the round one, there is clockwise movement in a space; from inside to outside, from outside to inside, and then endless infinite space which is going up somewhere.
gma Yes, that’s the most notable quality of the new work, this movement. There’s similar means of geometry and spatial dimension but also now movement too?
ak Yes, yeh, and if you see the very recent one in Hong Kong Art Fair, there is no geometry even. You will see some calligraphy I use -that’s a very very recent one.
gma Is that the first time you’ve used calligraphy...
ak Yes yes.
gma ... as calligraphy?
ak Noo, I took something from calligraphy and I’m using in a very abstract way.
gma Ah, because one of the styles of writing in farsi, I forget the name of the script, but it resembles a pattern or is often used very abstractly...
ak I’ll show you... [searches in phone for a photograph]
gma Oh wow!
ak So, this is 4 by 4 feet, and the blue is not just a blue, there are small waves in white. You can’t see it, but there is still same repetition but in curves, not a straight line. So hand moves like this [demonstrates a short wave movement] so that was also an amazing experience for me...
gma So is this...
ak Bismillah? Yes, it’s the first word of and there is another, I did two, there is another which is al Raman al Rahim, so it’s Bismillah al Raham al Rahim.
This is al Raham al Rahim. [AK shows me another image on her phone]
gma Ah wow, these are really interesting to see! Just to be clear, for these immediate purposes; it’s like a blessing no? Or when is it used?
ak It’s just in everything, beginning of food, beginning of everything. It’s just like that. So al Raham al Rahim, is the name of god and he is most most merciful and kind, you know. So that one is open and the water is going outside that, so that is about God, so he is, like there is no boundary of his love, and it’s just for everyone.
gma Is this related specifically to sufism for you, or may I ask what your relationship to sufism is?
ak Actually, sufism is Islam, it’s directly connected. It’s not something else, it’s Islam actually. But the Sufi’s way of saying is most directly to God, no-one is in-between and it’s all about love. There is no fear to God, like he will punish you, there is something but it is just like Lover and the Beloved. So there is a relationship like this.
gma There’s a phrase that describes it like ‘burning in loving surrender to God’.
ak Yes yes.
gma How would you describe your relationship with sufism?
ak I’m just an ordinary person. I’m not sufi, I can’t be, it’s a very big word... But I like this way of loving, because I like loving people even.
gma I imagine that in doing work like that, it takes a long time and must be a very particular thing to do, to dedicate this the and this meditative practice to this particular word!
ak Yes yes, so this is a Bismillah and when I was making single lines, there were thousands of lines, millions of lines to make that water, so every line was like a bismillah, bismillah. It’s like writing something, like all my thoughts, and then [draws a line in the air]...
gma So, Bismillah is not open?
ak No its not open, its contained. The title of this work is The Container and The Contained.
gma Oh! I want to stop and think and enjoy the thought of that actually! I’m a bit stunned by it!
ak You must go and see that.
gma I will, yes [-and I do, at Gandara Art’s stand at Art Dubai, where both paintings stood with elegant force, really stunning works in themselves but also promising much to come in that, particularly, with AK’s work it feels like a consolidation/underscoring, perhps before something completely new? Imran Qureshi also showed works related to those in Sharjah which were also a departure towards a more pared, focused, and abstract image-based works of significant note in themselves and essential companions to his truly great installation in Sharjah; In the Name of the Land of my Love]
ak [Voice drops] But you know, then you get the peace, and you feel what the peace is, what it means.
So, you don’t need to talk to anyone, you just talk to God, he give you a reply, everything. And I’m now 100% sure that the knowledge doesn’t come from the books, but it comes from the God. I read, books, books, read every day, every day I read and I just sit, then I get to know a little thing like what is this? And then something appears in my brain; this is like that! Ok! So, so this is this actually. So from last twenty years I am reading this and I don’t know what it means, actually. What actually this is!
It comes from somewhere else, when you just sit and talk then you start getting that. Actually what’s happening is that we have a lot of technology and we are stuck in that technology and people are, the technology is not for us, we are for technology now, you know? So there’s no space for brain, to just sit and think about yourself, actually, exploring of your self, what you are actually. What is heart, you just saw the photo of our hearts, we just make that stereotype heart when we love someone, and we just think about that but actually what is it? That is something else. If we just sit, even think about our one eye, one hair, we never thought about anything! We don’t have time, for think about our self even. If we explore our self we explore everything.
And every person knows good and bad no-one else needs to come and tell, you know. Everybody knows...
gma It seems to be that with this series of works that you’re showing here, there is this universal dimension but also it goes inside doesn’t it? Into this abyss of the self?
ak Yes, yes.
gma So as it were, looking at them I think I get it immediately, but I can imagine that for other people for which it’s new, I don’t think it would take long to realise, because in looking at them for a period of time you’re taken inside yourself...
ak And we also try to judge everything through the science and technology not through these things. You know?
gma In that case can I ask a kind of trick question? Your interest in geometry is striking; these rational, mathematical procedures which you make such good use of, both in the earliest work and the current work. So what is it about geometry that so interests you?
ak Initially, I just like pattern, making the pattern, through dividing the space. So even now what I do is make the squares, then divide it and fill the different colours. Making those divisions, and choosing different spaces for different colours, that makes a pattern. I love doing that!
Actually the basic form is a square. It’s always square and then I divide the square and multiply, and the colour and then I make these patterns.
gma Is that linked to your training as a miniaturist?
ak No, it’s not linked to the training, it’s something I just started myself, exploring myself. This was even not part of the training; overlapping colour. Traditionally, what we do is we leave that space for the other the colour, we don’t overlap much. But my work is always overlapping, one colour to the other.
And the pattern, geometry, is also about the Universe and about God, and when I start exploring this Islamic geometry, it’s amazing amazing. I think the person that invent this must be some sufi, someone very special, because when you see, every line has a meaning, no line is just going like that! Every line is connected somewhere with the other line. If you start here, and you have this much big pattern, the line will not stop anywhere, it will go here, then it will go here, then it will move like this. And always come in the centre, so centre is very important. So now what I am doing is the centre, and then everything is around that.
gma Do you start in the centre?
ak Yes. Every thing is coming inside the centre or going outside the centre.
gma Is it an instinctive relation to geometry, or an academic one?
ak [mishears] You can increase it and make more centre, but I always choose...
gma Is it something that has come from studying geometry?
ak No no no I never studied geometry, nothing. Only in school, a little bit like that. Nothing, I never studied it, anything like that, it’s just something I’m doing and exploring in my own way.
gma Some of the early work is very architectural, the pattern and the geometry and the...
gma Yes, it’s an architectural space, but now it’s hugely expanded,
ak Yes, yes!
gma ... but it’s the same means.
ak No it’s more vast meaning than previous one. That was a dead end. But this was endless space. That always end up in a dead end, like if a wall end up in front of it, but this is endless.
gma The method is the same, or very similar.
ak Yes, method, yes.
gma Also, it’s interesting that the new work is exterior or interior but there’s no body, or figuration in it. It’s always intriguing to me. The first work I saw was the veiled female forms, and it always seemed to me that it was all about the viewer’s perception of women and what the viewer projects on to the veil and notions of that.
ak Oh yes!
gma Sorry I’m not putting it very well, but as you were describing in Venice where the bullet holes are reflected back on to the viewer.
ak Yes! [smiles]
gma It seems to me that a similar process is going on in that work. Sometimes there is a veil and there may not be anyone there, the figure disappears and comes ...
ak Ah yeh, there’s an illusion of something being there or not. Yeh, but that was not only about the woman, that was about everyone. But this is just like a covering, something hidden, the presence of someone. If there is or there is not. Even if there is no veil, there’s just a fold, it also suggests the presence of someone.
gma Is there an element of that someone being someone ignored, overlooked, or melting into the background.
ak Melting in to the background, yes.
gma And you’re in a sense drawing attention to that?
gma I’m reminded of one painting of yours -a link to these paintings- it’s a sheet of lined paper, and at the bottom the pages turns into a veil and underneath is also some water.
ak Water, yes yes. It’s like a shrinking and the water is...
gma Does water signify anything specific?
ak Water signifies life. But here it’s also bound up with other meanings. You know, nature is all about God, you know water is a basic thing, without god there is nothing [quietly].
So, so everything is like that, like if I see the trees, the plants, the flowers. If you see the technology thing, it’s so ugly?! The plastic we made, but if you see the plant and flowers it’s so beautiful, it’s perfection. The water has no form, no colour but everything, but life. So why we are very much used to believe on the things which exist in a form and colour?
The spirit has no colour, no form, which is very essential. But then why are we believing in the words and form and colour you know? So these, are, [voice drops to humble, self deprecation] so many questions arise in my mind...
gma One thing about this show; I was just thinking that at first glance the shawl and the paintings are very different works. However I think there are obvious continuities, but what are those continuities -do you think?
ak Yes there is continuity, there is also a connection between them. I told you that the making is a similar way, the repetition and if you see the colours also it’s the same; the black and the gold. And then that is about man and the god and this is also, it’s something which is very much related to the life.
gma I noticed that you said that with the hanging, that you liked the folds in it, the fold has often been in your work. The fold is almost like your signature no? So it’s really direct, the link.
Also, it’s interesting to me, that the affectivity, the emotional response to your work, is the same, well, the paintings often have the same effect as this, because without it being a physical thing -where you can actually see behind- but the pins are somehow there...
ak Yes yes yes. Yes there is a two dimensionality also. There is a feeling of depth in that black, when you walk from this side to there, or that side. When you walk from that side, you see it’s just black, no gold you will see; it’s like iron pins no gold. When you turn then you see it’s a gold.
gma Ah yes, I was writing about that! I was thinking it was because of the polythene, and I wrote that it was ‘darkly black’...
ak Yes yes. And on the backside the pins also look like it.
gma It’s as if -with the paintings- it’s as if you can see the pins, at the back, somehow?
ak Yes yes But; ‘When you see the paintings’?
gma There are other dimensions going on in the paintings, sometimes subtle political things going on, etc. and it’s a bit like discovering the pins sticking out of the back [of them, as with the shawl] ...
ak Bit like the pins yes...
[we lose each other here]
ak It just comes from somewhere in my mind, I don’t know how...
gma Has anyone ever accused you of working, or rather if someone doesn't get your work I imagine they’d see it as surface only?
ak Even if someone doesn't get my work, they get the beauty of the work. So they get something and so I’m fine with that. They say it’s ‘so beautiful, so beautiful’. They just say this from the heart, that’s fine. That’s it! If you can just spread beauty, even if they don't get meaning out of that, even that’s a big meaning, to get the sense of beauty from someone...
gma That’s true. There was one other thing I wanted to ask you about, the design on the shawl, the Paisley. My ancestry is Scottish and I’m uncomfortable to use the word even, but the motif is actually from Kashmir no?
ak Yes, from Kashmir, and they also make it in this way, like I made this, the pattern is completely like the Kashmiri shawl.
gma What’s its name in Kashmir?
ak Paisley? Paisley is called Paisley, it’s Paisley. And karri also, I don’t know if they say that in Kashmir, but it’s Paisley also... There’s different different, the form of the paisley is the same, but sometimes they have flowers on the end, they decorate it differently, the form is the same, but treated in a different way.
gma What does it mean to you, that motif?
ak That motif just reminds me of Kashmir and the tradition. It must be came from some leaf of some tree, or some flower or something. Some fruit maybe. Because in Pakistan, embroidery is so common, if you travel, even after 50 mile to 100 mile the embroidery changes, and the motif also changes. It’s also connected with their area, the tradition and culture, and the flowers and trees and things...
gma Connected to that, where is that specific black die from?
ak They die it after that, and the red also, there is a specific kind of dying wool, so the Kashmiri person, I bought this and he dyed it for me.
gma In individual strands?
ak The black is individual strands, the red is not. The whole shawl is dyed.
gma Because they wear differently don’t they? Over time? Whether they die it in individual strands or as a piece no? One strand will fade a little bit...
ak Yes sometimes...
gma Otherwise they fade altogether, you know, if it’s dyed in one piece it all fades ...
ak ... evenly, yes.
gma Because we were talking about Indigo before and I know it’s like that?
ak Yes, yes, and we have indigo in Pakistan. We grow in Multan, vegetable dying also is there.
gma Ah really?
ak Yes there is one person, two years ago he graduated from NCA and now teaches at Sharjah University, he will come and you will meet him. He is good in vegetable-dying he did lots of research on vegetable dyes. He does it himself. He has plan, he doesn’t have money, he really wants to do something on a big level that he restore and he teaches people how to do this, because now there is very less people who knows about this vegetable-dying. So he research in all this thing, and now he has plan to do something.
gma We were talking about the Sarabhais in Ahmedabad, the family have a textile Museum which holds things like a Mughal-era awning -amazing place. I had a long conversation with Ascha Sarabhai about indigo, indigofera tinctoria, she was also keen to find ways to restart that dying technique though hadn’t succeeded at that point. I’m really intrigued by all this...
ak Yah! I also, yes it’s my wish.
I really like doing something with textile, always. Actually when I decided to go to art college, I wanted to do textile design, then I saw the miniatures and thought ok so I will learn this and maybe I can do textile. So I did work in block-print, dying, there’s a lot of things working with textiles, working with needle and fabric, also my video if you have seen, about making embroidery. I love embroidery also, I knit, I love sewing. Its’ very meditative for me, sewing clothes, it’s something makes me calm. So I am using these also in my art.
gma What do you think the next work you are planning?
ak Next work? I don’t know yet, it must be something to do with the calligraphy...
gma That’s interesting! Ah so what is the name of the form of writing in farsi, where you have this trail, tail abstracting...
gma Yes, I like the way it becomes visual, abstracts so naturally...
ak Yes yes beautiful.
gma For me, one of the things I like so much about the book that you did last year, the lines are closely linked to script in my mind...
ak Yes, to script. Yes, well with time these things are coming in to it, step by step.
I think it’s also with the age, factor. I feel now I’m, after one and a half year, I am going to be like 40 years. So this 40 is a very special time of life...
gma Do you think, it’s a rather personal question, there’s a maturing, a natural maturing within your own work, but also do you think that having children has had a specific impact on the work, the shift in it?
ak Yes! When my first son was born, my work quite changed. If I feel myself, it was like the first time I realised that I am existing. The first time I saw myself, I never thought about myself, I never even saw my face, how I looked like. So when my child was born so that also effect my work as well. And after the birth of my second child, it was one step more. I think that’s a big part, because giving birth is very special. It’s some creativity going on in you. Also you grow also with that, how your child grows you also grow. I feel like that. And my children, like people say do they bother you when you work. I say no, I bother them [laughs very heartily]
Like I was working on this shawl and was very tired and my son came and said ‘Why you make these big things, why don’t you make something little’ -something like that! They are also getting a lot from this art work, they come and see what I am doing they talk like that and like my oldest son is 7 but he is interested in sufism, in poetry...
gma It must be very special as a gift, this lesson that something of value takes time... even if they only understand it instinctively now. But as a lesson in life it’s invaluable...
ak Yes, when he was 6 months old, he always sit next to me when I work. When he was 12 months old I took him to the exhibition to London. He saw in the gallery like this, and he recognise that these are my paintings, that’s amazing. I was like! -because he saw at home that these are the same! He comes and talks about my work and he gives comments; ‘ok this green is nice, what are you thinking about the background, why circle, why this pattern you are making’. So he always asks questions.
gma One thing that, by example, you're teaching him is patience,
al I’m not teaching him like that, but they are just getting...
gma The other thing is to do with the extraordinary violence of the last several years. `it seems clear that it’s had some effect on your work. How would you describe that?
ak In Pakistan? Unfortunately it’s happening for years. I don't know, when I born, after that I start growing up, I just am listening about these things. Just a few years without this violence, still but in these days it’s a very very bad situation in Pakistan. It’s just because of involvement of other... things.
gma External things.
ak External. It always gets bad. And in Pakistan, we’re located with India on one side, other side Afghanistan, there is the Kashmir issue and then there is part of Iran that side is near the Middle East, so that area is... we have a mountain, start from mountain and five rivers and it comes down, we have very lovely plain agricultural land, deserts and beautiful. Then sea; everything is ideal.
gma Perfect place!
ak Perfect place. The highest top we have and the warm water sea which his the most attractive thing for people. So people are attracting. When you make a beautiful house, so people come and see, some people see and just get happy and some people just want to get that.
gma Yes yes.
ak And because we aren't strong enough inside, as a nation, so that’s why these things happen.
gma Do you feel that your own responses are changing, is it becoming more unignorable?
ak Yes its unignorable. Unignorable. I can’t just... Before that I was just directly reflecting on that, my work was very political. But now you feel like there are a few things in your hand and a few are not, so you start thinking beyond that, about those things. But I feel like as an artist, I feel it is my responsibility to say something, not just for my own country but in Iraq, in Afghanistan, what’s in Falasteen [Palestine], everywhere. I think it’s every persons responsibility to say something, as a journalist as a poet, as an artist.
gma Take responsibility for your own responsibility?
ak Yes yes to do something for other people. If only with one word you can change the situation, just do it! The life, no-one knows how long is it. So it’s better to die with the truth instead of just an accident! [laughs] in a suicide attack!
gma Or a drone attack, even worse!
On that note, shall we have some coffee?
Thank you Aisha...
© Guy Mannes-Abbott and Sharjah Art Foundation