Muscat-based Pakistani artist Sara Riaz Khan is a visual artist and an educational consultant. In 2007, a family crisis led to her work becoming fully abstract. She explores ideas about shared humanity, transformation and how the creative process can support during these challenging times. With a long term vision, she is inspired by nature, emotion, colour and sustainability.
Maryam al Zadjali, Director, Omani Society for Fine Arts (OSFA), opened Sara’s exhibition on December 13 at Art & Soul Gallery, the Waterfront Mall, following COVID-19 protocols. In an interview, Sara talks about herself and how the exposition is a gratitude to the people of Oman and the place where she belongs.
Why have you named the present expo, ‘Under a peaceful sky’? Explain I am at a time of my life taking stock of many things; this exhibition is a form of gratitude. Oman is a place like no other; it is uniquely connected to its history, while simultaneously moving forward. My experience of being in this peaceful space, close to nature has been an important part of my artistic development and growth.
Mountains, water and spaces inspire you. Any particular reason for this? I find inspiration in the land itself (the plains, desert, mountains, forest or scrubland) and this probably relates to spending time on a farm and being in the countryside as a child. Coming to Muscat from London in 2002, I was struck by how closely nature surrounds us. Often in cities, trees are the major natural landmarks that break up our horizon, but here we are close to open water and mountains. Life can often be challenging and when I can, I choose to focus on the beauty of nature.
Any reasons for highlighting nature, human emotions in your works? Making sense of our world and expressing ourselves, are fundamental human needs. Understanding my place in the world through my connection with nature and reflecting on emotions are important aspects. Living in different countries, nature made the unfamiliar, familiar and gave me a sense of belonging. It is something I always notice which gives me peace and strength. The process of painting often helped me work through challenging times and emotions. I am also inspired by ideas and connections, and often these relate to how and what I feel.
How has your role as visual artist, educational consultant influenced your works? Imagine being in a constantly changing feedback loop, where ideas and connections continually flow and impact each other. Both these roles offer opportunities to share and create knowledge as well as to be curious and keep learning. Sometimes being a visual artist is a very introspective process and can take me more inside myself, so the educational consultant steps out and opens connections to the world and all its inspiring people again.
Have you been influenced by any prominent artists in India, Pakistan, UK or Oman? Artists play diverse roles and have different influences. I would like to mention Howard Hodgkin (UK), Anwar Jalal Shemza (Pakistan) and V S Gaitonde (India). I have seen many changes in the Omani art scene regarding the use of techniques, materials and content. Maryam al Zadjali is one of the Omani artist whose versatility, skill and tremendous contribution I admire.
How did COVID-19 affect your work and how best did you manage your lockdown days? While thinking about emotional and mental nourishment in COVID-19, I decided to explore the idea of ‘Substrate’ — what nourishes an organism? When Oman went into lockdown I had just come back from the UK. I had limited art supplies and only small oil paper sheets to work with, so these works were necessarily small scale paintings created from just a few colours. My father passed away a few months ago and I could not travel at the time. I subsequently started working on a series called ‘Composite’, in which I examined how much of who I am has been impacted by who my parents were. I am still working on some of these pieces.
I have been listening to some lectures, interviews and discussions on art, design and sustainability, which have been made available to the public by museums and other institutions. I also finished some inspiring books including ‘Doughnut Economics’ by Kate Raworth. Lockdown also saw the publication of the two International Baccalaureate educational books my co-author Meredith and I have been working on for a few years, ‘Interdisciplinary Thinking for Schools: Ethical Dilemmas MYP 1, 2 & 3’ and ‘Interdisciplinary Thinking for Schools: Ethical Dilemmas MYP 4 & 5’ (Harbord & Khan) published by John Catt Educational Ltd, UK. Does your multi-cultural identity show in your works?
Having experienced different cultures, creative practices and places has most likely influenced who I am and how I experience in the world. Although this may not be visible in the abstract work itself, it does impact the ideas that interest me, such as exploring our shared humanity and what the essence of being human is. Ultimately people are people with similar joys, fears and needs.
What initiated you to abstract forms, will you deviate to contemporary art? I was just turning towards abstraction, when a family crisis in 2007 transformed my work overnight. Using abstract forms to express myself honestly and deeply, without feeling vulnerable has been important and I continue to develop my understanding of the potential and possibilities of abstract approach. I also work with digital and hand-drawn collages. If I had the skills, I would love to work with film because of its potential for storytelling.
How do you feel you will be in about 10 years from now? There are so many ideas I still want to explore and challenges to set myself, both personally and professionally. It has taken me time to become confident about my work practice but today I am sure about what a meaningful life looks and feels. I would love to be in a position to purposefully encourage dialogue between diverse creative communities and actively support women. As an educator, Harbord & Khan Educational Consultants are now presently using our ethical educational model and curriculum in different parts of the world and we hope to go from strength to strength! ‘Oman: Under a peaceful Sky’ is on at The Waterfront, Muscat till December 26 from 10 am to 10 pm