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Tazeen Qayyum resolves inner conflicts on paper

By News Desk
May 29, 2023

The Canvas Gallery is hosting an art exhibition featuring works by Tazeen Qayyum. Titled ‘Khayal’, the show will run at the gallery until June 1. “The power of the word committed to ink and paper holds the capacity to mobilise nations and bring revolutions,” the catalogue released by the gallery for the exhibition quotes independent art critic Nimra Khan as saying.

“Words have the strength to carry the weight of ideologies, and any idea repeated enough times can turn from a prayer to a chant, to a transformative force. The right, carefully chosen words can instigate a metamorphosis of thought and perspectives, both personal and collective.

“In her most recent series of works, Tazeen Qayyum re-articulates and re-examines the themes and processes of repetition and meticulous pattern-building in her practice through an engagement with calligraphic script, creating for herself a mechanism of healing.

“Performative, meditative and experiential, these works are a contemplation of ideas encapsulated by certain words selected by the artist. For Qayyum, the process is essential, propelling a sense of catharsis and critical introspection through a state of deep contemplation.

“Executed through copious amounts of patience, concentration and somatic engagement over an extended period, time itself becomes an essential aspect of the works as the artist maps her journey inward. The work employs the artist’s entire body in motion, demanding complete submission of mind, body and soul.

“And through this act, the word itself undergoes a transformation. Much like a word repeated over and over loses all semblance of meaning, here too the words drawn in Urdu script mesh together until they lose their individual presence, becoming one with the whole, becoming pattern and texture, light and shade, a solitary form.

“Yet, in this they gain another form of significance, they become more than words; the seed of an idea, profound yet with a subtlety that allows space for myriad interpretations and conclusions. The words chosen by the artist emerge from a personal space, where certain inner conflicts are resolved on paper.

“Thus, the words themselves are contradictions — from harsh and spiteful to lusciously sweet, from coarse to silky soft, from dark and malicious to gratuitously lustful — and the artist renders these dichotomies black on white in some cases, inverse in others, set against each other to create a poetic narrative that extends its metaphorical layers into the political realm.

“These themes in Qayyum’s work are perfectly encapsulated in the poem by Faiz Ahmed Faiz, ‘Aaj Ik Harf Ko Phir Dhoondta Phirta Hai Khayal’, which retrospectively became an inspiration and a reference point for the artist to situate this exhibition as she came across it amid preparations.

“In the four drawings titled ‘Harf’, she carefully selects words and stanzas from Faiz’s poem that speak to opposing yet interwoven concepts to create her circular drawings, combining bands of black, grey and brown to illustrate the beauty of heterogeneity in language.

“With this, Qayyum celebrates the affinity she finds between her works and those of Faiz, who articulates his political commentary through the guise of beauty, romanticism and spiritual prose. A piece like ‘Barabri/Bartari (Equality/Privilege)’ is overtly politically instigated, while others like ‘Yaqeen’, ‘Sabr’ or ‘Hasil’ have multifarious connotations.

“When works like ‘Gherat’, ‘Rehmat’ and ‘Izzat’, or ‘Wehshat’, ‘Ulfat’ and ‘Sehwat’ are placed next to each other, they weave a narrative that speaks to a collective female experience, which in turn takes a critical view of toxic and damaging societal norms.

“As a woman, the artist’s personal experience is inherently political, as her mind, body and very being exist as a political battleground. In these works, as she explores her very gendered experience, its universality becomes painfully apparent. Yet, what is most interesting is how readily the work lends itself to diverse contextual interpretations.

“In the light of the developing political and economic landscape of Pakistan in recent times, where the true face of fascism and the sheer absence of personal and public autonomy under the façade of democracy has been laid bare, these same works take on completely different connotations.

“Hasil, Gherat, Sehwat, Wehshat — the essence of these concepts boil down to the dynamics of power and the exercise of force to maintain it, which can easily be applied to the unfolding political scenario, where greed and lust for power rule supreme, crushing the common man under its iron fist.

“This situational adaptability creates a timelessness in these drawings, which is a testament to their strength as works of art. Through her work, Qayyum can find herself and negotiate her place in the world around her, while also allowing for an open dialogue with the viewer, all in the same deep breath.”

Tazeen Qayyum is a Pakistani-Canadian multidisciplinary artist. Trained as a miniature painter of South Asian and Persian traditions, she continues to explore new materials and processes through drawing, installation, sculpture, video and performance.

Drawing from complex issues of belonging and displacement within a socio-political context, her art is a channel for her to explore identity and beliefs relevant to living in the diaspora.

Exhibiting nationally and internationally, her work is part of several private and public collections, some of which include the Royal Ontario Museum, Canada; Welt Museum, Vienna, Austria; TD Canada Trust Permanent Collection, Toronto, Canada; Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Pengzhou, China; The Robert McLaughlin Gallery, Oshawa, Canada; Doris McCarthy Gallery, University of Toronto, Canada; National Gallery of Amman, Jordan; and National Art Gallery, Nepal.

Her works have been featured in critical reviews in several publications, including BlackFlash Magazine (2021), Canadian Art (2018), The Globe and Mail, Canada (2011 and 2015), and The New York Times (2009).

She was also the recipient of the Excellence in Art Award 2015 by the Canadian Community Arts Initiative, and has been nominated for the Jameel Prize (2013) and KM Hunter Award (2014). She received her BFA in visual arts from the National College of Arts in Lahore, Pakistan.

Along with her artistic practice, she teaches workshops in traditional miniature painting, and works as co-founder of Art Address, an interactive space for artistic discourse in Oakville.

She currently serves as a member of the Arts Council at Oakville Trafalgar Memorial Hospital, and was previously a member of the Board of Directors at Oakville Galleries and the Advisory Board at Blackwood Gallery, Mississauga, Canada.