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 Minaa Mohsin.
What are you trying to communicate with your work?
We live our lives in the middle of things. The homes we maintain and the items we collect are all documentation of our personal histories for which we seek acknowledgment. Material objects are given life by the meaning we attach to them. With this bestowed power, inanimate objects participate as important decision makers in one’s life. Attachment with objects, specifically household items of utility, fascinates me. By creating portraits of these articles, I elevate their status from being mere possessions to being actual people, and thus, try to communicate the idea that for humans, making associations is second nature, may it be with other humans or animals or simply objects—with the latter becoming increasingly problematic in our society. Humor is important to me. Like a standup comedian who makes jokes about family, I use humor to talk about attachment with material culture, and bourgeois aesthetics and aspirations that I have experienced growing up in Pakistan.
Several studio visitors have opened up about their homes and families upon looking at my work—about how their grandma in upstate New York had the same table, about how their parents would not let go of the bookshelf they bought three decades ago, about how oddly attached some of us are to our homes and domestic possessions, and about life before Ikea and Apple. Wherever in the world one is from, home is a subject that can start endless conversations.
The maid must’ve taken it, 2016, Mixed media on canvas, 66 x 42 inches
What is an artist’s responsibility?
The responsibility of artists is to thoughtfully use the language of art (in any genre), to the best of their ability, to communicate the message they attempt to convey even if they are unsure of what the message is; to have an inquisitive mind and vigor to constantly dig deeper and seek more from the world around them; and most importantly, to empathize—whether it is with others or with their own selves.
Show us the greatest thing you ever made (art or not)?
The Pleasure Principle, 2013, Mixed media on canvas, 96 X 96 inches
To me, this painting marks a turning point. In the course of collecting references for this visual, I literally experienced the pain and pleasure of maintaining appearances that I attempted to portray. Being a regular salon goer, I had always found it extremely uncomfortable when the salon staff would start working on me all at once, killing the whole point of relaxation for which one goes to spas and salons in the first place. I felt like a product being repaired with other products sitting in line for their turn. I saw bridal make-up being applied in assembly line with each bride hoping to look different than the other. The whole production house feel was amusing to me and I somehow wanted to stay and remain an observer despite my annoyance.
This painting allowed me to witness interesting salon dynamics. The employees came from entirely different backgrounds to work in beauty parlors which cater to a class whose life they may never get to experience. Clients would have at least one favorite employee who they would always ask for at each visit. These salons serve as meeting grounds that allow bonds to be formed between different social classes, and power structures to be switched in a way where the less fortunate is the star upon which relies the fate of the fortunate.
For this painting I asked the salon girls to attend to me like they would normally to a client while a friend documented the whole process. The resulting images were used to create an ironic and almost otherworldly pleasure parlor that depicted with humor what goes into keeping up this beautiful façade. With a painfully bright color palette, massive scale, and subjects engaged in grotesque acts of grooming, I think I was pretty successful in achieving that. The painting now hangs in one of Pakistan’s most well-known hair and wardrobe stylist, Tariq Amin’s studio. It could not have found a better home and I wonder what people feel when they encounter it.
Tell us about a work you want to make but never will:
As it is said, never say never! There are countless ideas and projects that I want to accomplish. It’s only a matter of time and availability of resources that will allow their eventual execution. I am working on potential projects in my mind (and journal) but for now I’m keeping it a surprise, even for myself!
Who are three artists we should know but probably don’t?
I feel an immediate connection with the work of Saba Khan. The heightened use of non-traditional mediums and techniques as a tool of irony, accurately depicts her concern regarding the gaudy display of abundance in the Pakistani nouveau riche. Hera Khan, on the other hand, uses traditional miniature painting to comment on the absurd material attachment and self-consciousness that accompanies the lavish lifestyles led by a slim segment of the Pakistani society. I would like to mention Rukh-e-Neelofer Zaidi (who happens to already be on ArtSlant) because her paintings are one of the first pieces of art I experienced in a museum setting in Pakistan. Her large-scale, dazzlingly bright, flat paintings speak volumes about femininity, culture and the everyday. I came across her work at the Pakistan National Art Gallery in Islamabad in 2008 and ever since then I have admired and taken inspiration from it.
—The ArtSlant Team
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(Image at top: Just put a flower pot on it, 2016, Mixed Media on Printed Fabric, 54 X 40.5 inches)
Tags: Minaa Mohsin 5 Questions Under the Radar Artist Interviews, painting