A Tête-à-Tête with Aisha Khalid

A Tête-à-Tête with Aisha Khalid

Aditi Ghildiyal

Aisha Khalid

Aditi Ghildiyal: How will you describe how miniature as an art form has re-invented and re-defined itself in contemporary times?

Aisha Khalid: If we study the history of miniature paintings we realise that miniature as an art form was constantly evolving and changing with time. The reason behind these changes must've been varied. But again if we think about it, anything related to human life cannot be static, it continuously evolves and transforms according to the environment around it. For example what was happening in Persian and Mughal miniature painting was very modern for its time. It was very original and the themes were also dealt in a noval fashion. Also when we see Dastan-e-Amir Hamza, entirely painted on fabric, it appears quite big in size in relation to other miniature paintings of that time. This only means that experimentation and exploration of new materials in art was also taking place then.

I have been working in the field of art for almost 25 years now and through my art practice and teaching I have experienced some huge possibilities in exploring the different mediums and genres of art. I think miniature paintings have been evolving through the ages and are even today. That is why it is still alive, fresh and accepted in today’s main stream international art world.

I had started with postcard-sized paintings in the late 90s but with time they evolved in size, some became as big as four by eight feet and some even larger, still embracing the same amount of detailing and sophistication in the technique as before. And from there I journeyed into three dimensional sculptures and then to four dimensional interactive site-specific installations in architectural spaces. So I think it’s all a matter of practice and passion. 

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AG: Your works have always held a strong socio-political context to them as well as they replicate the beauty found in traditional miniature paintings. In the contemporary times, when the concept seems to supersede the visual, how are you able to manage the equilibrium between beauty and narration? What are your thoughts on ornamentation and decoration being considered passé?

AK: Beauty is the main element in my work. I believe it is very effective and leaves a long lasting impression on people’s mind. It is the same as when you say something in a beautiful manner. Even if you want to share your thoughts on violence, sadness or pain, I believe it should be wrapped in beauty and aesthetics. I feel this world needs more beauty and positivity in visuals as we are surrounded mostly by violent images and news every day from media and other sources.

My work is a source of meditation for me. Thus the process of producing art has always had an element of repetition in it. Whether I paint or compose works in textile and steel pins or for that matter even in my videos and my art performances there is always the element of repetition present in the process. I think it is because of this repetition that beauty becomes an integral part of my work. I don’t think I ever felt the need to be conscious about making a balance between beauty and narration. It all comes spontaneously in my work. I never pay heed to trends or what people’s notions are about beauty. And so far, I've mostly received a positive response from people for it.

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AG: Can you talk a bit about the intangible presence of human form in your works? Even though it may seem to have disappeared from your works overtime but there is always an implied presence felt.

AK: Earlier human figures used to be a part of my paintings but then, gradually with time, they disappeared behind a curtain or a veil. Back then I was dealing with patterns which could be either geometric or floral. As years passed by, symbolism became more minimal and the hem line of curtain and veil started leaving traces of human presence. This also presented a contrast between the geometric patterns and the organic round forms while subtely hinting upon the presence of human life. It reminded me of the geometrical patterns found on the tiled floor of my old house.

Meanwhile, I was also concerned about endowing architectural perspective to my works. It started with one-point perspective but now has evolved into a vortex of infinite space. In my recent works the geometric patterns seem to take a life of their own thus endowing my works with more optical movement. These optical movements, the whirling motion to the eyes, take origin from the Sufi context present in my work. Their presence in felt in a very subtle manner.

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AG: You have mentioned about your fascination with textiles and its influence in your works. Can you please elaborate on this association?

AK: I have always had an immense interest in textiles from my childhood. This fascination came into my work as well. In the start it took up the visual form of curtains, veils and patterns in my paintings and later it came to manifest in my videos. I also started using embroidery and needles as a medium for my sculptural works. Later I started working on huge textile tapestries and garments embroidered with steel pins.

I like being hands-on, engaging directly with the material and this fascination has become my passion now. So whatever I do there will always be the element of textile in a symbolic or actual form present.

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AG: Given the magnitude of your works and intricate detailing they entail, your works must require excruciating hours of manual labor and a meditative bearing to execute the same pattern over and over again. Does your process add another layer of context to your works?

AK: Repetition is a critical aspect of how I make my work. It is a necessary part of the process because it resonates with the act of meditation. For me the process of creating is most enjoyable. The end result is a fortunate conclusion to the entire journey. I sit down to work and often don’t even realize that hours have passed by. Sometimes, I end up working for ten to twelve hours a day. That's because I don’t think of it as work, it is more like a blessing for me. Eventually my works get exhibited but it is its process that gives me consolation.

I believe that meditation has become a quintessential requirement to my working as without it I wouldn’t be able to make a work like the tapestry I did for Aga Khan Museum in Toronto which included almost three hundred thousand pins. Imagine placing one pin after the other. Repeating this process a thousand times or even more. This process is very similar to the way I apply paint. And this repetition is related to the direction in which my work is going. My work is personal of course, but more specifically, it is about my spiritual experience.

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AG: Your Blue and Black Colored Jackets titled “You and I” were the center of attraction this year at India Art Fair. Both of them had very different looks – different embroidery as well as cut. Can you share your thoughts behind these two works?

AK: I perceived the two jackets as a diptych as they both have the same narrative. The Black jacket has the same pattern as the Blue jacket but the pattern here is not aligned. Since it is stitched, if you want to align the pattern then you would require cutting the jacket from the centre, thus destroying the jacket itself. The pattern on the Blue jacket is aligned but its two parts are not, and if you try to align the parts then the pattern on the jacket will be disturbed. The entire work revolved around the concept of limitations in life. We face limitations in different aspects of our life, whether in our relationships or in our own bearings. The sharp end of the needles lace the insides of the jacket representing the pain and discomfort we feel as a result of these limitations. In a way it talks about the uncertainty of life too.

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AG: We would love to know about your upcoming projects and new works in store?

AK: I do not want to share much but I can let you know that there are some interesting projects coming up in the Middle East soon.

AG: Do your children too display interest in art given the fact that both their parents are internationally acclaimed artists?

AK: There is no doubt that our children feel very proud about both their parents. But I think there has been an overwhelming exposure to art since they were born. Everyday we are practicing art, discussing art and even most of our friends are from the art fraternity. Our children also accompany us to art openings. So I think there is already too much of art surrounding their life and they must be tired of it by now. People often ask them if they too want to be artists and their answer is always, “No! We will do something else, something different”. I’m fine with whatever decision they take as long as they are happy with it. After all it’s their life, so let’s see…

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