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An Interview with Pakastani artist Nusra Latif Qureshi, from Australia's Sutton Gallery, Art Dubai 2013

Posted: 03/21/2013 3:41 pm

JS: When and how did you decide you wanted to be an artist? What challenges did you face growing up as a female artist in Lahore? Why did you leave? Describe your immigrant experience in Australia as a woman, a Pakistani, and an artist. How is this expressed in your work?

NLQ: I do not really remember deciding to become an artist- just did not want to study sciences. I chose to study art in college and then to apply for National College of Arts, Lahore. That is where the thought developed - that doing art/making art for living/for life is not an impossible idea. It was and probably still is one of the easier options to aim to be an artist in Lahore if you happen to be a young woman.

Leaving Lahore was for personal reasons. Australia is a quiet place in many ways. People can decide to live the way they like, generally speaking. But as a young-ish (politically) nation, it is not caught in the melodrama of cultural and religious righteousness; there are other basic concerns and desires that can be fulfilled without encroaching on others' rights and without offending their belief. The opposite of that is happening in Pakistan - non-conformation means offence in contemporary Pakistani vocabulary. So, as a quite place, Australia offers a chance to contemplate and offer a comment in the form of artwork.

JS: You belong to a generation of Pakistani artists who have reinvigorated and then furthered the Mughal miniature tradition. How did you discover this tradition and why did you study it? What initially interested you in the visual history of South Asia? What continues to interest you now? How did you further the tradition? Were you consciously aware of belonging to a generation who revived this tradition? Was there a correlation between what was happening at that time in Pakistan and your revival of the miniature tradition? Is your work in any sense nostalgic? Why or why not? What visual, technical, and conceptual relevance does working in the tradition have in 2013?

NLQ: I was exposed to this form of expression at National College of Arts. I found the paintings fascinating due to their detail, structure, deliberation and craft. It seemed extremely different - exotic even (if you can believe the use of this expression here! It was perfectly exotic in comparison to the Euro-American art history and practice that was taught at NCA). The detail, colour was fascinating - so was the impossibility of creating something on the scale it was. Along with the images, I gradually became interested in the people who were depicted in those paintings and then who had painted them.

My interest in the visual history is on two levels: firstly, the richness and depth of cultural expression in all forms of art; secondly, its potential use to comment on various social and political issues that concern me. I think that tradition of any kind is a reminder that there were similar ideas that have been thought through in some form, that have been repeated in similar forms until a new-er form was explored. It seems that the people of twenty-first century are more obsessed with the idea of individualism - expressed through buying the same gadget and wearing the same pair of jeans!

Anyway, on a more serious note, tradition offers a resolution that has been reached in a particular problem at some point in the past; it is not a definite answer, just an answer. Remaining within this sphere, there is possibility of more and differing answers. In the context of visual expression, it is probably a matter of personal preference and option rather than an obligation to follow a certain tradition.

I would not say that my work is nostalgic- I do utilise the romance of history but only to fragment and disrupt its charm.

I consider the current situation sometimes quite ridiculous - as many artists used this genre as a launch pad, without trying to understand it - a little bit like an ill-fitting and ill-suiting latest fashion accessory.

JS: What recurring themes do you explore in your work?

NLQ: Loss, depravation, past and history, and disregard towards it - political history mainly. Other ideas that keep reappearing are layering of influences and multiplicity of origins/identities. The difference and distance between self-perception and how others perceive you.

JS: What role does the past play in your work? By past I mean religion, art history, politics, and social history?

NLQ: Past sometimes serves as a counter-balance to the banality of the present. There is more to life that 'like' an idiotic religio-political slogan on Facebook or tweet your 'reaction' to a video of a sleeping cat that probably resembles the new pope. In my work it serves as a tool for reminiscence to some extent.

JS: What's the relationship between your miniaturist technique and your subject matter?

NLQ: Fluency usually.

JS: What are the technical challenges in working so small?

NLQ: Limited room for technical error! I sometimes think it is 'within my means', that is when it becomes frustrating.

JS: Do you think of yourself as a craftswoman? Does the idea of perfection figure in the creation (on your part) and assessment (on the viewer's part) of these pieces? What's your distinction between art and craft?

NLQ: I think of it in this way: there are things I can do better than others and there are things I do not want to do in my work, I do the things that suit that work.

The distinction between art and craft is probably a bureaucratic distinction or facility. Some people like to distinguish works of art from craft by measuring the 'thought' or ' process' that goes into making of something.

JS: Explain the inclusion of hands in your work.

NLQ: Gesturing hands refer to religious iconography and to the idea of implementation of that religious ideology upon masses.

JS: Sometimes you work on large-scale installation and multimedia. How do you reconcile these larger pieces with your miniature ones? Is anything lost in the translation of scale?

NLQ: It is more of a problem of perception than of expression. I sometimes work in collaboration with my husband on large scale works; these projects offer a liberating space, out of the 'expectation zone' of the viewer/curator/critic.

JS: Do you pay any attention to art criticism? What's your take on Australian art criticism and art history?

NLQ: I try not to pay much attention - not much at all - especially to the hydroponic variety of critics. I am highly suspicious of 'people' who amputate the artist from art and then build their career on that discourse - obstinately discussing art as it appeared out of thin air without artistic, human intervention.

JS: What are you working on now?

NLQ: I am exploring identities-their formation and mutation. Some exploration has taken the form of large-format photographs of myself dressing up as different people.

"Accomplished Mission I," 2012
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Courtesy: Sutton Gallery
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