Interview with Rubaba Haider

Interview with Rubaba Haider

BY ANANT ART  FEBRUARY 17, 2018

By Ria Sarkar

Rubaba Haider

After two successful shows with Anant Art, Rubaba Haider's works continue to captivate viewers in mysterious ways. Is it a painting? Is it woven cloth? A lot of questions come in mind while viewing her works. We decided to do an interview with the Melbourne-based artist to appease the curiosity of our numerous art enthusiasts. Read on to know more about the preoccupations and recurring motifs that occur in her works.

Ria Sarkar: A needle is primarily used to repair tears in cloth or to fix breakage of skin (medically). From the point of view of weaving pain and trauma into your works, would you say needles in your paintings are often depicted as an instrument of pain rather than healing?

Rubaba Haider: The use of needles in my work shows my experience of pain and trauma associated with the gain and loss of relationships over time. The sharp, pointy end of a needle, and the red paint colour that I use creates a sense of discomfort and loss. I use needle as a metaphor for recurring experiences of loss. In some works, I've used sharp mechanical needles piercing the cloth in a manner that it provokes an experience of tension, discomfort and pain among the audience. While in other works, I've used the same needles but placed them in a such a manner that it incites emotions of calm, peace and serenity.

Rubaba Haider

(left) The stitch is lost, unless the thread be knotted 52 x 30.5 cm
(right) The stitch is lost, unless the thread be knotted - II 52 x 30.5 cm

...the unravelling of threads reminds me of the loss of relationships."

RS: How has your interpretation of 'thread' changed since it appeared in your initial works back in 2008-09?

RH: Initially, 'thread' was associated with memories of my childhood and how it affected my life as an adult. Back in 2008-09, I used references from my childhood to express myself in my paintings. I used a rather indirect approach to show my feelings, as I wasn't comfortable in expressing my very personal emotions publicly. This prompted me to use bedspreads from my childhood, or stitching material from my mum's sewing kit, that were all very dear to me. These references conveyed my message of discomfort and pain, but at the same time, created a dialogue between artist and audience.

Now, that I've grown up as an artist, as well as an individual, I've become more comfortable in my skin and have acknowledged and accepted having a difficult childhood that shaped me into the person that I am today. I've found that I can talk more openly about how relationships have affected me throughout my life, which has enabled me to express myself more openly through my work. I often find old dresses or shirts, that are torn apart from the seam or has gaping holes, where the unravelling of threads reminds me of the loss of relationships, of discomfort and pain. For me, a 'thread' is a fine filament or cord that binds relationships together, but at the same time, if that same thread becomes severed and damaged, it can very easily break apart.

Rubaba Haider

Both light and shadow are the dance of love (Rumi) I
Water colour on Fabriano paper
51 x 33.5 cm
2017

RS: You've mentioned in your statement that as a child you rejected the traditional Hazara practices of learning weaving and embroidery and took to paints and colours instead. Do you think now you enjoy revisiting those traditions through your artistic practice, since you've been working with details of these techniques for the last few years?

RH: I've always been the 'different' one within my community, especially being a girl. I always broke the traditional mould that a girl was supposed to be cast in. Even though I learnt the traditional Hazaragi weaving, sewing and embroidery techniques, I never found the patience to enjoy practicing it. It created a sense of anxiety within me, which is weird because I use the same techniques within my paintings, and it gives me a sense of comfort and peace. It's like using the same technique but one makes you anxious, while on the flipside, the other one gives you peace. But in saying this, nothing is set in concrete with me, as I always end up doing the unexpected. And expecting a new-born daughter any day now, I might one day, go back to enjoying embroidery if I feel like creating something for her.

RS: Some of your works have aggressively unravelling threads, with gaping holes where the cloth has been torn; while some have the soothing, tranquil quality of perfectly knitted cloth. Do these signify different aspects of relationships/bonds to you?

RH: The unravelling threads and holes within fabrics, and the introduction of dark colours like black shows the aggression and disturbance within relationships in my life. The use of black shows the new aspect of life and relationships that I faced after getting married and learning how to adjust to these relationships. The earthy tones, and warm subtle colours used in other works shows the strong familial bonds that I have with my family, and how these relationships have survived the toughest challenges, and have given me strength and support through thick and thin. These bonds give me a sense of security and tranquillity which emerges through these works.

Rubaba Haider

The spider's touch, how exquisitely fine! Feels at each thread,
and lives along the line (Alexander Pope) III
Gouache on Wasli paper
2017

...if a work doesn't have that intricacy and precision, I don't enjoy creating it."

RS: Your approach towards the Miniature tradition appears to be a literal adaptation of the word 'miniature', with respect to portraying borderline microscopic views of knitted cloth. Would you agree that your manner of depiction has a surgical precision? If yes, is that intentional and why?

RH: I try to bring a quality of precision, intensity and beauty within all of my artworks whether they depict pain, trauma and aggression; or tranquillity, serenity and peace. For me as an artist, if a work doesn't have that intricacy and precision, I don't enjoy creating it. Each brush stroke and line is like meditation for me. Each detail demands absolute focus on the area, which as a result takes me to a place of meditation and quiet.

Rubaba Haider

The spider's touch, how exquisitely fine! feels at each thread,
and lives along the line (Alexander Pope) IV
Water colour on Fabriano paper
31.5 x 51.5 cm
2017

I always try to remain anonymous on exhibition openings so that people don't know who the artist is"

RS: The titles of your works are based on quotes by famous poets such as Rumi and Alexander Pope. How do you pick these titles and why?

RH: I find my works to be very poetic where each line and stroke has a flow and connection with each other. If you remove or miss one brush stroke, it creates an impression of emptiness and void and as a result loses its meaning. I find poems to be the same way. If you don't understand a verse or miss it, you don't enjoy the full context of it. My paintings, much like poems, create a dialogue between artist and audience. I enjoy listening to people and recording their feedback, which helps me in creating my future works. I always try to remain anonymous on exhibition openings so that people don't know who the artist is. This helps me in getting uncensored and honest feedback about my work, which I find is very important for my growth as an artist. It is due to this poetic capacity of my artworks, that I enjoy reading books and quotes from poets like Rumi and Pope to pick titles for my works. I don't want the titles of my artworks to be dull and boring. I want them to be as enticing and enchanting as my artworks, so that it helps the audience in understanding my works as well as engaging with them.

Rubaba Haider

I see my beauty in you (Rumi) III
Gouache on wasli paper
2016

Rubaba Haider's solo exhibition " A Story of Thread and Thrum" is currently on view at Niagara Galleries in Melbourne Australia till 3rd March.

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