By Anum Sanaullah
Tue, 10, 22

Let’s hear what the artist, Sanie Bokhari, has to say about her unique take on art…


art interview

Sanie Shoaib Bokhari, born in Lahore, Pakistan, completed her Bachelors in Painting from the National College of Arts, in 2014, where she also taught for two years. She continued her studio practice alongside, and her work has been exhibited in galleries in Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore.

In 2012, she was one of the three individuals selected to represent Pakistan in Luton, for a cultural exchange program where Pakistani truck art was the main focus. She also spent a month at the Vermont Studio Centre, after which she recognised the necessity of graduate school for her work practice. In 2016, Bokhari started a two-year MFA program at the Rhode Island School of Design.

While pursuing her master’s degree, her surroundings allowed her paintings to open up and express themselves as more direct representations of feminist agency. She began questioning the traditions she had left behind, but also appreciating, and understanding them from afar. Her practice heavily relies on painting but also utilising materials that interrogate gendered assumptions. Ultimately, she seeks to create a platform for cultural dialogue through her practice that reflects linkages between cultural exposure and personal progression. Her current practice is an undertaking of an inquiry of the broad range of prospects presented by contemporary painting. Let’s hear what the artist has to say about her unique take on art…

You! What are some of the nuances you dismantle through your work?

Sanie Bokhari: My work aims to reveal the persistence of patriarchal standards through an exploration of cultural differences in gender across oceans. The composition uses figurative symbolism to depict diasporic rootlessness and Mughal miniature painting as a lens to view the cross-generational experiences of South Asian women - all while interrogating the complexities of representation.


You! What do your paintings represent?

SB: The images depict the precarious nature of traversing in and out of gendered roles, allowing the viewer to understand the female character as the protagonist rather than a monolithic being. The figures straddle self-actualisation and rage, resulting in a contemporary Judith and Holofernes saga rooted in sub continental imagery: a roaring flame, a branded sneaker, broad goya-esque brushstrokes harmonising with a delicate pardakht, stylised lotus petals and Indo-Persian swirls.

You! What is the purpose or objective behind your drawings?

SB: The work is meant to be seen in conflict: making the viewer question their understanding and contemplate gender through multiple lenses. It strives to deconstruct the idea of the exclusivity of western feminism and its impacts around the world, specifically the South. The objective of my drawings, paintings and sculptures is to understand and process the experience of a transnational woman, marked by the history of colonial rule, while grappling with the inherent racism that exists in American culture.

You! Can you tell us about your recent work?

SB: This project will be an install of drawings that exist as one long narrative, comprising several smaller parts. The project intends to make sense of two worlds; a world which exists in memory vs a physical world. Architectural references in the imagery will allow access to the viewer of the physical, while clothing and fashion of the drawn figures evoke the memory of another culture/time/space. Having never had a studio in Manhattan, I want to record architectural facades around the neighbourhood, through the process of frottage; a technique that involves placing paper over textured material or objects and rubbing it with pencil. Surrealist artist Max Ernst was the first to pioneer this method - someone whose work I’ve always looked up to, and for this project, his drawings will be a key reference point.


You! What are your views on the art world’s relationship with women artists?

SB: The art world still has a long way to go, but has been evolving to a point where more voices are being accommodated on big platforms. Being a South Asian woman in the US is a category that still needs a solid community and support.

You! How do you think being a woman has affected your career?

SB: Growing up in Pakistan, the lens through which I saw the world always made me extremely aware of my gender. My work is autobiographical, all my narratives are about my experiences navigating the world as a woman - and now, as a brown woman living in America.

You! What does gender equality mean to you?

SB: The work walks through a combination of divergent mind-sets, where the idea of what gender equality means is looked at from a global lens. It strives to deconstruct the idea of the exclusivity of western feminism and its impacts around the world, specifically the south. The objective of my work is to understand and process the experience of a transnational woman, existing with a history of colonial rule, while grappling with the notion of race, a construct inescapable in American culture.

You! How is your experience as a Pakistani woman different than living in America?

SB: I’m still trying to understand my role as a woman in Pakistan who has experienced different cultures. While Pakistan may be male-dominated and patriarchal, there’s something exciting about being a woman trying to change that.

You! Which other Pakistani woman artists inspire you and why?

SB: I love the work of Huma Bhabh, I believe her to be a very ambitious sculptor whose work I am in constant awe of. I find her sculptures hauntingly beautiful and thought provoking; which have the charisma to engage the audience in constant conversation with her creations.

I also admire the work of Bani Abidi whose video installations grapple with problems of nationalism, specifically the Indo-Pakistani conflict and gives an extremely interesting perspective on the matter.

You! What advice would you give to emerging female artists back home?

SB: To fully grasp and understand the art that came from our culture, and deeply study the history of the region before delving into a contemporary means of production. Without having a deep comprehension of our own roots, making contemporary art remains superficial. It is also important to perfect the basics of any medium, with lots of practice.