Born in 1997, Shehzar Abro is a multimedia artist currently based in Vancouver, Canada. He recently graduated with diplomas in 3D Animation and VFX from Vancouver Film School (Canada) and SAE institute (Australia). Currently, he is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in media arts from University of the Fraser Valley. He has many solo and group shows to his name in Pakistan, Newcastle, Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne.
Shehzar Abro employs painting, animation, film, and design to create surreal 2D artworks and 3D virtual environments. In the digital medium, Shehzar explores digital media technologies in relation to the modern art world and creates art for social impact. Shehzar is also now working with experimental animation, virtual reality and the world of cartoons.
Shehzar collaborated with the Karachi Biennale in 2019 (KB19) to introduce an Australian mental health initiative at the NJV School in Karachi. He curated and exhibited Impact I and Impact II, both of which were shown at Gallery ArtOne62 and Movenpick Hotel Karachi Art Gallery. Shehzar has also curated a Pakistani photography exhibition for Consulate General of Pakistan in Sydney, and assisted in curating Jimmy Engineer’s exhibition at the Willoughby City Council in North Sydney in 2018.
“I like to paint people who I find interesting. I connect with people, talk to them and they share their narrative. Their aura interests me; when I converse with them and find their stories interesting, I capture that aura in my work. Even during COVID, I am capturing the reality of people through social media. Sometimes, I had to delay my work for 8 hours because there was so much conversation, and sometimes it would be done in hours,” says the talented artist about the portraits hanging behind him. In an exclusive interview with You! Shehzar talks about his passion i.e creating surreal artworks…
What issues do you want to highlight specifically through your work?
Conflict of physical space has always been there so majority of artists don’t get representation; how they can get platforms or design cultural education centres to showcase their work. I want to look at this aspect and all the conflicts revolving around it. For example, 15 artists try for one space and only one of them gets it. What if there was no physical space and these spaces could be colonised.
How do you plan to resolve this issue?
Internet is free and I want to use this to have an impactful conversation. It will be about using art as a modern platform.
What do you plan to do with your portraits?
I want to turn it into a bigger project which I will eventually, exhibit. It has been going on for a while and with each portrait my style changed, views changed and the narrative changed. Remembering the conversations that I had with these people has shaped me and made me who I am.
What is the scope of media arts, in your opinion?
Animation is a very technical thing; understanding software, production etc. Coming to media arts, it’s a broader umbrella of media theory, graphic design, etc. Media arts is to get a deeper understanding, not only for technical perspective but a larger one. Design and art is a very good way to talk about a problem in society through a non-threatening language and to resonate to people; that’s what media arts degree has been giving me a further insight. It has a vast scope and gives a range of topics to address.
How was your experience of KB19-GEMAH workshop?
I realise that borders don’t matter in arts so whatever I do is to bring to my home country. Since KB19, I started animating a lot and brought an initiative through KB to hold this workshop and spread awareness for mental health. I had Australians working with me. Our motive was to let people know how to deal with emotional health and creating a community to support each other, which GEMAH organised. There were 30-35 participants, all from artistic background, who came in and created art. There was a coaching session which gave them a perspective on how they should deal with something and learn emotional vocabulary. It opened up opportunities for all those artists and one of them is even working with GEMAH now.
You want your projects to be in Karachi but you reside in Canada. How does that work out for you?
The art events happening in Karachi encouraged me and I aimed to have a show in the city, every year. Andres Delgado and I, a Columbian artist, collaborated and brought an international show to Art One 62. I wasn’t able to do a physical show, this year, but I am creating a virtual space which will be a platform for impactful conversations. It can host initiatives in Karachi and on international level. I want to use it for opening a debate on the system of teaching arts in Pakistani institutes. My friends, who attend art school in Pakistan, speak about the way they were taught and, being an outsider, it gives me a privilege to host these conversations and critique on the way of teaching.
What will you name these projects?
It’s called ‘We Are Here Collective’. The history behind it is associated to the time when the British invaded India and made a similar statement. Me and Andres are here as a community.
Do you think people would open up about the art scene they’re a part of?
The global community has to critically analyse the institutes and speak about the pros and cons to conclude what it means to educate an artist. My past exhibitions never divided on the basis of space. The process of curating should be locking a moment in time and history through means of art. Artists should have a vocal opinion; if they don’t then they aren’t a part of the movement. A lot of things need to be vocalised in the art scene.
What’s the art scene like in Canada post COVID?
Before COVID, there were a lot of openings but since then it has quietened down and they aren’t as grand as they used to be. Since COVID, I have started thinking of these initiatives because attention is the new space, everything is digital. A person visiting your links is all the attention that you are getting and it sounds weird to see how art is evolving. Canada pushed me to make my work more meaningful.
You have touched many genres in the field of arts. What are your future plans?
I went to a high school in Karachi where I took up Arts as a subject. I met cool teachers like Masuma Halai Khwaja, who is also my inspiration. She was the one who pushed me and is the reason I am an artist today. The urge to become an artist rose when I was painting a mural for a private 5-star hotel in Karachi and gained recognition from there.
I plan to pursue a career in digital animation and produce something that is at the cusp of painting and animation. I want to understand the process of painting and the digital part of it, and where they overlap. It might sound confusing but it’s an exciting process.
Your current project sounds exciting. Can you share with the readers what’s it about?
I am inspired by sculpture and turning it into a virtual reality. Physical reality space differs from virtual reality space and this new space will have a new perspective. The aura of the art work changes, which is what I want to explore. I will exhibit both these artworks in juxtapose phase so people can analyse and differentiate. I am talking to art galleries in different cities of Pakistan but it’s still in process.
I am also working to exhibit my work in the Reach Gallery Museum. There are 450 frames which I will be sending to people around the world who want to colour it. Everyone wants to be a part of something bigger. What can happen when 450 artists will come together. All artworks will have a different cultural background, location etc. I am super excited about that and hoping to exhibit it.
Any parting words?
I am waiting for an opportunity to bring this as an education in Pakistan; animation and experimental animation and equipping artists with these tools. Pakistan is a technologically capable country, where initiatives are coming out and I am excited to get a chance to work in one of the institutes where I can encourage hybrid work with digital works and teach them, because I believe that’s where the world is headed.