Haya Zaidi is a multidisciplinary visual artist, based in Karachi. She graduated from NCA-Lahore in 2017, obtaining a distinction in miniature painting. Zaidi’s work is an amalgamation of mix-media, collage, miniature painting and digital art. Her work focuses on personal experiences, while navigating the world in the vessel of a brown female body and explores topics around race, gender, identity and sexuality in the underworld cultural climate. continental. Since 2017, Zaidi has exhibited nationally and internationally and received critical acclaim for her unique visual language, and has earned a distinct position based on her originality, experiences and ideas. This week, Haya is talking to you! in depth about her process and the untapped topics she has chosen to explore and express through her art…
You! What prompted you to get into art?
Haya Zaidi: Since kindergarten, all I wanted was to be an artist. Even when I didn’t know what a career was or what the word “profession” implied, I somehow realized that I just wanted to doodle my way through life. And then I’m here today, trying to be an artist.
You! What was your artistic journey?
Hz: It has been refreshing, self-soothing, meditative and extremely grounded. I am a very obsessive-compulsive person. If I’m bored and have nothing to do, I’ll constantly look for things to fix, wash, clean. Through my practice as an artist, I have found a way to channel all of these quirks into my work. So let’s say if I draw a thin outline with zero ink and brush and it’s wonky in some places or dark in some places and light in others, I can easily spend 6 hours of my time to make it perfect. It really motivates me and gives me a sense of satisfaction.
You! Can you tell us about your inspiration behind your paintings?
Hz: I am inspired by the bittersweet and comforting banality in the lives of the women around me. Growing up, I saw the women in the house doing all the chores and being so busy they didn’t even have a Sunday. I idealized these women growing up and not just these women, women everywhere. Women in my neighborhood, my teachers at school, women who work as home-based workers – almost everyone. In a strange way, all these people are part of my identity.
You! What distinguishes your work from other artists?
Hz: My work is personal and influenced by the Pakistani landscape. I lived here all my life, made several observations, judgments; had many epiphanies. It’s an accumulation of every conversation I’ve had with anyone, everything I’ve been through, worn, every swear word thrown at me, every hug, every Eid, every Muharram – it’s my whole life.
You! What is miniature art and what inspired you to focus on miniature painting?
Hz: Miniature painting is a flat, two-dimensional style of painting that uses the technique of opaque watercolors and Siyah Qalam (using ink with squirrel feathers). It was adapted by Persians and Mughals to depict stories of war, court scenes, and the private and domestic lives of kings and rulers of the time. It’s a very distinct style of painting, which may look very easy to the untrained eye, but is actually extremely technical.
What motivated me to focus on miniature painting is that it is extremely close to my roots. It’s something I can own and call it ‘mine’. He is unaffected by European and Western ideals of art and has a distinct and individual presence in the art world. I am fascinated by all the patterns, the enchanting details, the delicate yet persistent and arduous technique of painting and I want it to grow and be relevant in contemporary times and not just remembered as an art form of past.
You! What was your most memorable exhibition?
Hz: I have participated in twenty-four exhibitions so far, including national and international exhibitions in galleries and museums, but I would say my most exciting exhibition was my first solo exhibition at Sanat Gallery, Karachi . For an artist, his first solo exhibition is like a sacred pilgrimage of self-reflection, artistic discovery and completion in a way. I worked diligently for years and developed a body of work so diverse and comprehensive that looking at it felt like an out of body experience; and look at everything that makes ‘me’.
You! What kind of mediums do you use to create art?
Hz: I find it extremely liberating to experiment with a lot of materials while I work because each time the results are always new and surprising. Some of the mediums I work with are paints, inks, Mylar, tea and coffee, canvas, neon, plexiglass, digital art, fabric, poly bags, beads and stones precious stones, lace and collage.
You! What makes miniature painting interesting, how is it different from other traditional arts, like calligraphy or tezhib?
Hz: Calligraphy, Tezhib (the elements of which are used in making borders), Siyah Qalam, gold and silver leaf work, all are part of miniature painting. This art form is interesting because it is so layered and has so much depth. One could look at figures and objects in the miniature painting works and be mesmerized by the amount of intricate detail depicted.
You! How do you find your composition?
Hz: I do a lot of pencil sketches and decide on the placement of various characters and objects. Nothing is final in the initial composition. I continue to experiment with intense collage work, so it continues to evolve naturally. The final composition isn’t ready until the last brush stroke or a splatter of paint.
You! Is there an element in your art that you appreciate the most?
Hz: I would say the element of surprise is what I enjoy most about my job. As a creative individual and child at heart, I try to instill spontaneity and playfulness in my work, every step of the way. I’m not afraid to throw a bucket of thinned paint on a carefully rendered piece of art, because I’m thrilled to see the results.
You! What is the hardest part of your job?
Hz: Manage the many aspects related to the work, other than the simple artistic creation. These include packaging, shipping, documentation and marketing, pricing, contacting numerous galleries, and determining job responsibilities for my career as an artist.
You! What don’t you like about the art world?
Hz: Gravity. Some people take themselves or their art too seriously. If people could just be themselves and have fun making or viewing art, it would be a lot less pretentious.
You! What is your artistic vision of life?
Hz: I am an idealist and a lover of beauty, peace and harmony. Because I’m a bit of a romantic, it’s easy for me to forget about the chaos and the ugly things in life. I subconsciously look at everything and everyone around me with rose-colored glasses, choosing only to see the good and the beautiful. This led me to make many mistakes in my personal and professional life.
You! What is the importance of gallery representation today even if the artist can market it himself?
Hz: In my experience, galleries exist to connect you with a large clientele, people who have been collecting art for years and years; serious buyers. In my opinion, “art” is so broad and versatile, whether you are creating digital art or site-specific sculptures or working with new media, i.e. projection, lights, film, video editing and animation; you don’t really need to be represented by a gallery. Social media platforms such as Instagram, Behance, Linkedin and others are powerful enough to give you connections that will help you grow as an artist and capitalize on your art.
You! Do you think the art scene has changed in recent years?
Hz: With the advent of social media and easy access, the art world has evolved tremendously, giving all creatives a unique voice.
You! What is the most important advice you can give to young artists?
Hz: Be yourself. Don’t make art that is selling right now, or that is trendy or practical. Be smart and make art that comes from within and keep improving. Develop your own unique style. Practice, practice and practice!
You! They say the best artist surfs after pain. Has this happened in your life?
Hz: I think most artists are social pariahs. I’ve been one all my life. I was bullied in school growing up and as an adult for making unorthodox life choices. In my opinion, perseverance, determination and discipline are the recipe for success.
You! What’s next for you?
Hz: I have an exhibition at ‘O art space’, an engraving exhibition in December and an exhibition in Brussels soon. I want to keep experimenting and growing, making mistakes along the way and learning from them, but never slowing down.