Dipping into the layers of miniature art

By Wallia Khairi
Tue, 09, 22

This week, Haya Zaidi, a miniature artist, talks to You! in depth about her process and the untapped topics she chooses to explore and express through her art…

Dipping into the layers of miniature art


Haya Zaidi is a multi-disciplinary visual artist, based in Karachi. She graduated from NCA-Lahore in 2017, securing a distinction in miniature painting. Zaidi’s work is an amalgamation of mix-media, collage, miniature painting and digital art. Her work centres on personal experiences, while navigating the world within the vessel of a brown female body and explores subjects around race, gender, identity and sexuality within the sub-continental cultural climate. Since 2017, Zaidi has exhibited nationally and internationally and earned critical acclaim for her unique visual language, and acquired a distinct position on the basis of her originality, experiments and ideas. This week, Haya talks to You! in depth about her process and the untapped topics she chose to explore and express through her art…

Dipping into the layers of miniature art

You! What made you pursue art?

Haya Zaidi: Since kindergarten, all I wanted was to be an artist. Even when I didn’t know what a career was or what the word ‘profession’ entails, I kind of got the gist that if anything, I just want to doodle my way through life. And subsequently I am here today, trying to be an artist.

You! What has your artistic journey been like?

HZ: It has been refreshing, self-soothing, meditative and extremely grounding. I am a very ‘obsessive-compulsive’ person. If I am bored and have nothing to do, I’ll constantly look for things to fix, wash, clean. Through my artist practice, I have found a way to channel all these quirks into my work. So let’s say if I am drawing a thin outline with ink and a zero number brush and if it’s wobbly in places or dark in some places and light in others, I can easily spend 6 hours of my time to make it look perfect. It really grounds me and gives me a sense of satisfaction.

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

HZ: I’m inspired by the bitter-sweet and comforting mundanity in the lives of women around me. As a child growing up, I’ve seen the women of the house do all the housework and being so occupied that they didn’t even have a Sunday. I’ve idealised these women growing up and not just these women, women everywhere. Women in my neighbourhood, my teachers at school, women who work as hired home workers - nearly everyone. In a strange fashion, all these people are a part of my identity.

You! What sets your work apart from other artists?

HZ: My work is personal and influenced by the Pakistani landscape. I have lived here all my life, made several observations, judgements; had numerous epiphanies. It’s an accumulation of every conversation I’ve ever had with anyone, everything I’ve experienced, worn, every cuss word thrown at me, every embrace, every Eid, every Muharram - it’s my whole life.

Dipping into the layers of miniature art

You! What is miniature art and what inspired you to focus on miniature painting?

HZ: Miniature Painting is a flat, two-dimensional style of painting which uses the technique of opaque watercolours and Siyah Qalam (using ink with squirrel feathers). It was adapted by Persians and Mughals to depict stories of war, scenes in court and the private and domestic lives of kings and rulers of the time. It’s a very distinct style of painting, which may look really easy to the untrained eye, but in fact is extremely technical.

What motivated me to focus on miniature painting is that it’s extremely close to my roots. It’s something that I can own and call it ‘mine’. It’s untouched by European and Western ideals of art and has a distinct-individual presence in the art world. I am fascinated by all the motifs, the enchanting details, the delicate yet persistent and strenuous technique of painting and I want it to grow and be relevant in contemporary times and not just be remembered as an art form of the past.

Dipping into the layers of miniature art

You! Which has been your most memorable exhibition?

HZ: I have been a part of twenty-four exhibitions so far, including national and international exhibitions in galleries and museums but I would say my most exciting exhibition has been my first solo exhibition at Sanat Gallery, Karachi. For an artist, their first solo exhibition is akin to going on a holy pilgrimage of self-reflection, artistic discovery and a completion of sorts. I diligently worked for years and developed a body of work which was so diverse and all-rounded that looking at it, I felt like I was having an out of body experience; and looking at everything that makes up ‘me’.

You! What kind of mediums do you use to create art?

HZ: I find it extremely liberating to experiment with a lot of materials while I am working because each time the results are always new and surprising. Some of the mediums that I work with are paints, inks, Mylar, tea and coffee, canvas, neon lights, plexiglass, digital art, fabric, polythene bags, beads and gems, laces and collage.

You! What makes miniature painting interesting, how is it different from other traditional arts, such as calligraphy or tezhib?

HZ: Calligraphy, Tezhib (elements of which are used in border making), Siyah Qalam, working with gold and silver leaf, everything is a part of miniature painting. This art form is interesting because it is so layered and has so much depth. One could look at characters and objects in the works of miniature painting and be mesmerised by the amount of intricate details illustrated.

Dipping into the layers of miniature art

You! How do you come up with your composition?

HZ: I make a lot of initial pencil sketches and decide the placement of various figures and objects. Nothing is final in the initial composition. I keep experimenting with intense collage work, so it keeps evolving naturally. The final composition isn’t ready till the last brush stroke or a paint splash.

You! Is there an element in your art you enjoy the most?

HZ: I’d say the element of surprise is what I enjoy most about my work. As a creative individual and a child at heart, I try to inculcate spontaneity and playfulness into my work, every step of the way. I am not afraid to throw a bucket of watered down paint onto a carefully rendered work of art, because I am excited to see the results.

You! What is the most challenging part of your work?

HZ: Handling the numerous aspects related to work, other than just art-making. These include packing, shipping, documentation, and marketing, pricing, being in contact with numerous galleries and figuring out the professional responsibilities of my career as an artist.

Dipping into the layers of miniature art

You! What do you dislike about the art world?

HZ: The seriousness. Some people take themselves or their art too seriously. If people could just be themselves and have some fun while making or observing art, it would be a lot less pretentious.

You! What is your artistic outlook on life?

HZ: I am an idealist and a lover of beauty, peace and harmony. Because I’m somewhat of a romantic, it’s easy for me to overlook chaos and the ugly things in life. I unconsciously look at everything and everyone around me with rose colour glasses, choosing only to see the good and the beautiful. This has led me to make a lot of mistakes in my personal and professional life.

You! What is the importance of gallery representation today even if the artist can market it themselves?

HZ: In my experience, galleries exist to connect you with important clientele, people who have been collecting art for years and years; serious buyers. In my opinion, ‘art’ is so broad and versatile, if you’re creating digital art or site specific sculptures or working with new media i.e. projection, lights, film, video editing and animation; you don’t really need gallery representation. Social media platforms such as Instagram, Behance, Linkedin and others are potent enough to grant you connections that will help you grow as an artist and capitalise on your art.

You! Do you think the art scene has changed in the last few years?

HZ: With the advent of social media and easy access, the art world has evolved tremendously, granting all creative individuals their own unique voice.

Dipping into the layers of miniature art

You! What is the most important advice you can give to young artists?

HZ: Be yourself. Don’t make art that’s selling right now, or trendy or convenient. Be smart and make art that’s coming from within and keep improving. Develop your own unique style. Practice, practice and practice!

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

HZ: I think most artists are social outcasts. I’ve been one all my life. I was bullied in school growing up and as an adult, for making some unorthodox life choices. According to me, persistence, determination and discipline are the recipe for success.

You! What is next for you?

HZ: I have a show coming up at ‘O art space’, a printmaking exhibition in December and a show in Brussels soon. I want to keep experimenting and keep growing, making mistakes on the way and learning from them, but never slowing down.