One enters the upper portion studio apartment of this house in model town to be received by a space as content as the artist himself. The space connotes an air of calmness; it’s as if a traveler has just come to rest. The walls are sophistically adorned with art and he explains how it has been a long process to make it the way he wanted to. Elegant and modern furniture, books shelves with books on art, a sitting area and American kitchen facing each other with a huge hall in between create an airy ambience. It has not been very long since Ali Kazim has shifted here.
The studio workspace is within the apartment and I’m led to it by Kazim. . The first thing to capture my eye is the feathered body of a Chakur bird hanging on the wall. This is accompanied by other meticulous works in progress and a large modular table on the right placed next to the window. Modular storage shelves are packed with material on the left wall and during the last half an hour of our conversation Kazim points out how he’s been exploring material to figure out body cast sculptures since two years. He aims that it should be casted like ‘fossils’ and represent natural decay and time but nothing has been up to the mark up till now. His lust for searching natural material and the organic goes as far as not ever having used acrylic paint. Artificiality (anything with plastic) doesn’t impress him while the natural has been an everlasting concern. We discuss the mechanics and wondrousness of the simple bird nest placed on his table and he explains how he’s been lucky enough to witness the making of the most complex bird nest. Kazim has been trying to explore and study beehives as well and is still in the process of figuring out what to do with them as they wear out and knowing how to restore them is important. This appreciation for nature can also be assumed inevitable as his family in Patoki (his village where he grew up) are involved in the gardening business.
During childhood days Lahore sounded like a land of opportunities, one rumor at a time made him decide his preparation towards it. A newspaper clipping and someone talking about an art school, ‘National College of Arts’, an encouraging school teacher guided him to take classes from cinema board painters to enhance his skills. Pottery work or chinioti wood carving, Kazim was preparing for something bigger and so learning was unstoppable. He achieved his basic education and the post of a dispenser in Gulab Devi hospital, Lahore was a breakthrough. “I wandered in Anarkali every day in search of artists! I’d read Sadat Hassan Manto’s books and their mentions of artists in Anarkali and Pak Tea House, when finally one day (1998) I saw a student drawing a clock outside Punjab university and I thought, you are the one!” Henceforth developing a portfolio, getting admission in NCA were all checkmates after talking to a stranger who was drawing…perseverance was the key word.
It’s said that if you are not confused you are not paying attention and after his graduation from the National College of Arts 2002 Kazim got involved in a couple of production projects. He assisted Shoaib Mansoor in the making of the song supreme Ishq and was surprisingly pleased when he was credited the assistant director. He explains how our production industry has no designated people for creative works like costumes. And in situations like this the inventiveness is more important than the practicality; even fiber glass costumes that can hurt the actors are fine as long as they are serving their purpose. Production works were paying him substantially well and he was welcome in the industry which at times made him question his career choice…
In 2003 his first international residency Artist Camp, George Kyet Foundation, Sri Lanka was a milestone especially in terms of conceptual growth. A land not far away from here showed him a more progressive side of the world. Girls and boys bathing in the lakes together, women involved in all fields of life and at par with men on every platform. “I thought they are people so similar to us but with such a different approach towards life”
Kazim was humbled and overjoyed when a viewer of his work from his MFA thesis in The Slade School of Art, UK (2011) came and told him that his wife never went to galleries but he had insisted her upon coming to see Kazim’s work as he had seen it a day earlier and considered it a must-watch. The viewer’s pleasure and visual experience is the real reward for him and it starts from his own amusement. He had never known in the beginning that he would resolve the work in such order. He’d stepped out from the two dimensional drawing in the page to a three dimensional space. The hallucinating, almost-supernatural quality of drawing itself is one of his main concerns.
He mentions how once he was drawing his own figure on the side and considering it just an exercise and not a work when he worked on the surface till the point of saturation. He felt that the work needed to get rid of the extra colors and took the drawing and washed it. This process of washing his own figure and colors bleeding out of it was so enigmatic that it led to his video piece titled ghusal. Unbelievable steps in the process identify the most eminent concerns. Purifying ourselves, wuzu(ablution), Holy waters are rituals imprinted in history and in our senses. Experimenting with pigments and farfetched, unpredictable experience of technique and material flows naturally in Kazim’s work process…from hair and leather to much more…
The elaborate pattern/texture on the Chakur bird (Chukar)in the studio is an evidence of Kazim’s involvement in texture and detail. He had experimented with different ways of capturing skin and used a razor on the sheet as well. This yearning for detail made him question the origin of the characters he was painting. Where had they come from? What was their story? The human body is contextualized with symbols and adornments that dictate origin. “taweez or imam zaman are worn for connecting us to the other world” Kazim thoroughly researched on Mohenjo-Daro, Harappa and Chillas and the figure of the ‘king priest’ from Harappa with the sash and headband intrigued him.
Society pressures decide who we are “I was always Interested in music but I can never sing because I was discouraged to do it when I was a kid” the works Shah Sawar and Sher khan 2009 came after contemplating on the way others want to see us. Sher khan is the image of a boy sitting on a Bengal tiger and Shah Sawar is a little boy on a fake pony…
There is never a dull moment in Kazim’s story and he says with genuine thankfulness “It has never happened for me that I’ve wished for something and not gotten it.” Therefore the list of credentials, accolades and brilliant works will only continue from here on. The four year old village boy who got appreciated by his teacher on drawing the perfect mango has traveled in full circles only to appreciate birds, bees, nests, time and people even more than before.
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