Head of the Art department at Karachi Grammar School for more than a decade and currently teaching A-level art, Samina Islam has been creating art professionally and exhibiting on a national and international level since 2002. She joined Studio Art when Artist Nahid Raza was the principal. “At that time, I had two small children and was not able to join IVS.
I had recently moved to Pakistan with my husband and kids from The Netherlands. Coming to Pakistan I wanted to pursue my passion for art. After completing four years at the art institute and majoring in painting, the only thing I wanted to do was create work and exhibit,” shares Samina.
Recently, the artist held an exhibition at Art Chowk Gallery in Karachi, titled ‘Connecting the Dots’. In an exclusive interview with You! Samina talks about her art and the exhibition…
You! What was ‘Connecting the Dots’ about?
Samina Islam: It is actually my autobiography shown through my work. The exhibition was divided in six segments each telling its own story. It starts with my family background, being born to a Dutch mother and Pakistan father. I worked on top of old family pictures of my parents. This part of the exhibition shows how the pictures are displayed on the wall just as someone would display their family portraits in one’s house. From there I continue with a segment that shows how marriage can impact a woman’s life. The rest of the show covers the four artist residencies I have been to in Mexico, Japan, Canada and the US. The works I created there are on display and how the residencies affected my work as an artist.
You! What made you pursue art?
SI: I always had a deep love for drawing and painting. I know it sounds cliché but it’s the truth. When I was young, my dream was to be a fashion designer. Moving back to Pakistan made me pursue art as I needed an outlet for my feelings.
You! What is the inspiration behind your work?
SI: My inspiration is my family background, nature and things that concern me.
You! What is your speciality in terms of techniques and material?
SI: I would say my speciality is embroidery. I mainly use simple stitches as the French knot and Stem stitch. I also use beads and sequins in places. Photography and using Photoshop are also a part of the development of many of my artworks.
You! What mediums do you prefer?
SI: I love to combine different media. The constant medium that I use is thread but I continue to mix it up with different media to keep my work fresh and exciting. Repetition is something I want to avoid and I want to challenge myself as an artist by trying out new techniques and working with new media.
You! Is there an element in your art that you enjoy the most?
SI: What I enjoy the most is starting a new piece as it is exciting to see how it will develop.
You! Do you see art, writing and painting as a source to unwind or expressing yourself?
SI: Yes, certainly I believe creating is an outlet for my feelings and it also relaxes me as a person. Art keeps me sane and happy when I don’t create I feel restless.
You! Is there any work of yours you are most proud of?
SI: Actually, there are two which I really enjoyed. One of them is an installation piece I did during my Japan residency called ‘Inside my Brain’. This was the first time I ever attempted an installation piece and really enjoyed the process. I stitched pieces of coloured organza, which I brought from Pakistan, together to make a large piece to work on. I collected organic materials from places that I visited during my residency and took pictures of the things I was seeing. Towards the end of my residency I started stitching the seashells, stones, leaves etc. with some of the photographs I had taken of the places I had visited, onto the organza. The completed piece was draped over a tree branch that I found in the forest and hung from the ceiling. This piece actually depicted how the brain of an artist translates the images they see to ideas for their work.
My second piece that is special to me is one where I collected used teabags to create my work. The piece is inspired by a rock that I used to see on a beach in Japan and I was just fascinated by the shape of it. I created an abstract image of the rock by stitching the teabags on canvas and then I added the water and some seaweed through embroidery and use of sequins. I think these are my favourite projects because they were experimental and challenging for me.
You! What has been your most exciting exhibition?
SI: My most exciting exhibition was actually the one I curated at VM art gallery ‘The thread Unraveled’. This was a Fiber art show showcasing the work of 6 international artists and 5 Pakistani artists including me.
You! What do you dislike about the art world?
SI: What I dislike about the art world is the politics and nepotism. I believe any field related to art should only focus on the talent of a person and not where they studied or who they know. Many good artists give up producing work because of this or don’t get the support that some artists do get because they belong to certain groups or institutes. This is sad but this does not mean you should stop creating what you love.
You! What do you dislike about your work?
SI: I dislike the marketing part of my work. I love to create art but marketing it is another story.
You! What do you like about your work?
SI: I love how flexible you can be when creating art. I can go in all different directions using thread. My work is never boring or repetitive.
You! How do people receive your work?
SI: They are in awe when they see the work up close, as I work with lots of detail and you can see that the work is very time consuming. Embroidery work needs to be seen in person as a picture does not do justice to the work.
You! Do you travel for inspiration?
SI: Not necessarily. I can get inspired by anything even when I am driving in my car and looking out of the window. I did go for artist residencies and got inspired by my new surroundings. Inspiration can come from anywhere and knowledge comes from reading, watching and listening.
You! Which place inspired you the most?
SI: I really love Japan as it has beautiful nature, culture, history and then again it is also a very modern country.
You! Who are your favourite artists?
SI: A Peruvian textile artist Ana Teresa Barboza and Pakistani artist Ruby Chishti.
You! In your opinion, how would you define surreal art?
SI: For me surreal art is something I would see in a dream rather than in real life. A world you can create your own imagination in.
You! What is your artistic outlook on life?
SI: I would say looking at situations from different perspectives and angles. Try to keep life simple don’t complicate it and try to enjoy little things in life which is not easy believe me.
You! As an art teacher, do you feel the stigma around art education is getting better?
SI: I feel that many parents restrict their children from taking art as they don’t see any future in art. These parents should realise that everything made by man has been designed by an artist. Please encourage your child to do art don’t hold them back. It is so satisfying to have a job that does not feel like work but is a passion and makes you feel happy. The more we create the more we train our brain to think. Moreover, art will also prevent depression and other mental illness prevailing these days in our society.
You! Do you think the art scene has changed in the last ten years (locally and globally)? Do you think it will change substantially in the near future?
SI: Art is more approachable than 10 years ago especially because a lot of art galleries are online now and having online exhibitions. I also feel that there is a young generation of collectors now who collect for the joy of having art they love in their home.
Locally, I feel that there is too much grouping amongst artists, which divides the art world; too much politics, not giving fair chances to artists who deserve more. I hope this will change in the future because this is not a healthy environment to be creating art in. The art scene will keep changing I only hope for the better.
You! What is the most important advice you can give to young artists?
SI: Work hard, be focused, and be ready for criticism and disappointments. Remember that you became an artist for a reason to create something you love so don’t give up when you feel down or depressed. Keep going that would be my advice and be genuine, do not copy!
You! What are your future plans?
SI: As always creating new work and exhibiting.