By Amina Baig
There is a certain spontaneity and exuberance to Aisha Khalid’s manner. If you look at the work she has created over the last three decades, give or take, you might be pleasantly surprised by the pure beysaa-khtagi with which she expresses herself.
A miniaturist by training, Khalid joined the National College of Arts (NCA) quite by incident, in a direction wholly opposite to which she had planned her life. In Salima Hashmi’s 2001 written collective of women artists in Pakistan, Unveiling The Visible, Khalid refers to being forced to sell their family’s lands in Sindh and relocate to Lahore in the 1980s. It was a turning point in her life. Before, the artist had aspired to a place in the medical field, and afterward, she was forced to look for whatever option that wasn’t the “second rate women’s college” she attended in Lahore.
Always focused on academics, Khalid dutifully practiced her studio skills at NCA, and as anyone who has done any miniature painting, or indeed looked at one knows, the discipline required is exhausting.
Aisha Khalid’s initial art stemmed from her personal experiences, the geometric pattern of her family home in Sindh showing up more often than not in paintings. Miniature painting often employs repetitive motifs, which are painstaking to replicate identically. To stereotype, you’d expect the miniaturist to be at the very least, very restrained. But that’s just stereotyping. Khalid speaks openly and from the heart, and everything about her practice sounds like she followed and found her bliss, and lives it every day.
A few years ago, Khalid was looking for a Karachi-based curator, and connected with Masuma Halai Khwaja through a mutual friend.
“There aren’t many museums in Pakistan, and I feel more and more like I need to show my work to a Pakistani audience,” she says, “Especially in Karachi. I come from Sindh, and still feel very connected to the area.
“A lot of my practice comes from my childhood, my memories. It is rooted in my home, in rural Sindh; it shows up in the geometrical patterns that mimic the tile of its floor. I learnt to embroider back then, and use embroidery now as part of my practice. So much of my work comes from that land, that time, that background.”
Khalid soon found funding as well as heritage spaces to showcase her work in Karachi, and started looking for someone to curate the show.
“I know people in Kara-chi, but I don’t feel connected to them. When a friend mentioned Masuma, it clicked instantly; I had known her for years as an artist and a teacher, from when she taught at NCA, and I saw her work with Karachi Biennale, and it just fell into place.”
Thus came about the first edition of I Am And I Am Not, and Masuma Halai Khwaja, artist and curator, feels that the body of work is important, and maybe not in the ways one would think. Sure, it is always
phenomenal to see women succeed, and since Halai Khwaja employs the ‘domestic’ arts of sewing and embroidery in her own practice, it is exciting to see what two artists with a similar approach will do together.
These are the details Halai Khwaja is not interested in. They are by-the-way. She looks at the entirety of Aisha Khalid’s work as a vehicle for something else. So, when the opportunity to show the retrospective at Govett-Brewster Art Gallery in New Zealand presented itself through Zara Stanhope, Director, they were thrilled.
“Firstly, of course it was exciting because New Zealand is so off the grid,” says Halai Khwaja. “But once I visited for the first time, I realized what an important step this was going to be, and how important it was to show Aisha’s work here.