This is 5 Questions. Each week, we send five questions to an artist featured in Under the Radar, our weekly email highlighting the best art on the ArtSlant network. This week we seek answers from Naira Mushtaq.
What are you trying to communicate with your work?
My work is a study of relationship between a found object and the emotion it evokes, leading to narratives in a different space. My specific interest lies in the deconstruction and re-framing of vernacular photographs. In working with these, I have found how essentially similar family structures are across cultures. Family albums have disappeared with the advent of digital photography; these fragile prints inadvertently document perhaps the most important bits and pieces of our collective past. I explore this participation by engaging the community, treating them not simply as subject matter but also as involved individuals in this process, working with their explicit consent.
However my main focus is not just the exploration of family photographs; revisiting archives of these photographs often makes one wonder about their origin and stories behind these forgotten narratives, and how much they have changed with the passage of time. Time plays a fundamental role in wearing down these memories of our experiences: they diverge, they mould, evolve or dissipate—such is the play of time. Our memories deceive us, pliable and ever evolving. We are left with fragments of truth, distorted records of our making. For me, the process of translating that found image onto canvas, and then deconstructing it to a mere semblance of what the visual initially was, is very important.
Naira Mushtaq, 09-09-1939, 2017, Oil on canvas
What is an artist’s responsibility?
We are living the most politically charged time my generation has seen, a political unrest that is not contained by geographic borders. It is imperative that the artist community stays vigilant, stays focused, and states their truth. That to me is an artist’s responsibility.
Show us the greatest thing you ever made (art or not)?
This particular project was my first foray into the realm of public art. It might not be the greatest thing I have made, but it is most definitely one that I feel the most strongly about:
Bird’s-eye view of the installation set up at a local park that is frequented mostly by working class, the circular walkway was set in an anti clockwise manner—taking the concept of Muslims circling the holy site in Mecca in a clockwise manner. The motion itself sets one in a trance of reverence.
The center of the installation was an area where the viewer, after coming out of the walkway, could sit and contemplate
and light an incense stick to commemorate the lives lost.
'Hum jo tareek rahon mein marray gaye' (we who were slayed in the dark alleys) (2015), was a public installation held a local park in Lahore. The objective of this installation was to document and remember various acts of terrorism in the name of religion.
The structure was a walkway with a contemplative space in the middle. We designed the triangular buntings, which reference clippings from Urdu newspapers. More than 126 incidents were extracted—we repeated/hung each incident around 40 times and moved on to the next, hanging them in chronological order (monthly and yearly). Each individual bunting shared the year and place of a person’s death, the reason of the life lost, and how it was taken.
It is a memorial to share and reflect over history and time. The center of the installation provided a place where incense sticks could be lit in remembrance. Traditionally used and somehow mystical (associated with shrines of saints and graveyards), therse perfumed agerbatis made the work akin to a vigil.
Tell us about a work you want to make but never will:
I have a Jekyll and Hyde practice. A part of me is happy to paint slightly unnerving, nostalgia-ridden works while the other part of me is ears-deep in creating subversive public artworks that critique the local government and their complacent and complicit ways.
One of the works that I really want to create is ironically driven from the idea of the bat signal: an ephemeral subversive political statement set against the landscape of the historic city of Lahore.
Who are three artists we should know but probably don’t?
Three is too little a number for the amazing artists that I want to name. But for this I will name three incredibly talented and the most badass women that I have had the privilege of knowing: Amra Khan, Maria Khan, and Sehr Jalil, who as it happens is already on ArtSlant.
—The ArtSlant Team
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(Image at top: Naira Mushtaq, 04-07-1996, 2013, Gel transfer and collage on paper)