By Anum Sanaullah
Tue, 05, 22

This week You! is in conversation with visual artist, Fizza Saleem…


art interview

Fizza Saleem is a visual artist living in Karachi. She is currently teaching drawing and Illustration at SZABIST and runs an independent Art Studio, catering to individuals with no art background. She is currently doing her M.Phil. in Art and Design from the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture.

Her practice took an interdisciplinary turn after her return from The Lemon Tree House Artists’ Residency in Camporsevoli, Italy in 2018. Her investigation about the transience of nature in the form of video installation was shown at the Alliance Française de Karachi in 2019. In 2021, her two works ‘Flowers bloom for their own joy’ and ‘The Architecture of Being’ were based on her relationship with the sea and non-humans that are analogous to human beings. Fizza graduated from the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture in 2002, after doing the first three years of her BFA degree at The National College of Arts Lahore. From the year 2004 - 2011 she headed the A Level Art department at the Karachi Grammar School and remained adjunct faculty at the IVSAA. This week You! is in conversation with this brilliant artist…


You! What has your artistic journey been like?

Fizza Saleem: Once I graduated, I was working on a large scale. I had a really big studio with a large number of paintings, about 15 - 20 paintings in my own house, so I suddenly had to go a little bit smaller. I had rented studio space and I continued to work on a somewhat larger scale, which at that time even a 4 by 6 feet painting was not large for me, because I was used to working on larger than life size, but I continued to work with the medium that I was working on. I was showing my work at different places in Karachi and then there came a point in my life, where a shift happened in my work where I was confined to my own room. When my daughter was born, I could not work in a studio, I had to work in the bedroom. I had my second solo show working from my desk. My work became very illustrative as it was inspired by children storybooks. In some way, it used a lot of figurative images. I work with a lot of images of my own children.


You! Can you talk about your inspiration behind your paintings?

FS: Two decades ago when I graduated, I was working with images of the sea and I was working with organic farms where they did underwater imagery and I was looking at a deeper connection between these underwater animals, manatees and how they identify with each other. The same month I was walking on the seabed in another country and I worked on the seabed. A few years later I ended up getting into scuba diving and I did a couple of courses, where I started to explore underwater life and it was something which was not planned, but I kind of started to make these connections and that imagery. Going back to two decades ago when I was working with large scale, the two images that I was working on - the human body becoming really small and the size of small organisms becoming really large. Instead of looking at those objects separately, I was looking at the whole water body becoming really large and the size of the figure really small.


You! How is it going up near the coast? Do you think it influences your work?

FS: I have a close connection with the sea, it’s a place for me to unwind and breathe. And think and connect with a larger force. It is the place where everything begins, it originates from that connection, with that very metaphorical connection.

You! They say that the best artist surfs up after pain. Was there any of that in your childhood or life?

FS: I think suffering is very much a part of making art, and I think one of the reasons why it makes you so close to the artist because sometimes you are finding a way. It’s a way that you find an escape sometimes or find a connection. But I look at suffering more as a feeling. It can be intense feeling of suffering, intense feeling of pain or intense feeling of joy, but an intense feeling that translates into something deeper than what is on the surface. That feeling only comes out when you put that work into practice. It’s more like getting in touch with yourself.


You! I sense an inner child guiding you through your work. What do you have to say about that?

FS: So I think that a lot of people think that this inspiration suddenly comes and you’ll get to work. But I think just like any other work we do, we have to show up, we have to appear at the studio at a certain time of the day, spend certain number of hours and then yes, inspiration comes. Sometimes, there are days when nothing happens and then suddenly something happens. So you can’t really give it a timeline. Sometimes, there’s hours of thinking and a few hours of work, and sometimes there’s mounds and mounds of work. But you can’t be like, oh I’m going to eat, sleep, watch movies and suddenly the inspiration will come. No, inspiration will not come like that like. You have to inspire yourself.


You! Are there any particular artists that you look up to? And how does that translate into your work?

FS: I think the inspiration keeps changing, but in recent times my inspiration has been Marina Abramovic. Just last night I was listening to one of her interviews and she said that, she had asked some of her students to write for a couple of months as an activity. For two months they did sheets and sheets of all their good ideas and bad ideas. All the bad idea they were supposed to bin and all the good ideas were supposed to be kept. At the end of two months, she took out all their bad ideas from the bin and said, ‘let’s work with those because the ones that you think are the bad ideas are the real ideas.’ So, I think these kind of things become my inspiration. Your original idea is something that you could work with and then it’s how you get in touch with that feeling and take it forward. You don’t know where it’s going to pick up and may turn into something very different. I am inspired by different people at different parts of my life.

You! What is next for you?

FS: Currently I am pursuing an M.Phil. degree and working on projects that are close to my heart. Let’s see how life unfolds as we move forward.