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
Sara Riaz Khan, an abstract artist, author and educator, who has lived, painted and taught in Muscat for many years, presents her solo exhibition, titles 'Gratitude for Oman', a the Art & Soul Gallery at the Water Front mall, at Qurm. The exhibition, will be inaugurated this evening (December 13) and open for public viewing from tomorrow.
The Art & Soul Gallery, located in the Water Front mall, was inaugurated last month to provide a unique space for artists who come from multidisciplinary art forms. It offers the perfect ambience and elegant art spaces that overlook the Arabian Sea. The gallery’s space, with its fine tunes acoustics, well-lit exhibition platforms, and state of the art equipment, is seen to be a space that artists and art enthusiasts could look forward to holding and attending regular art related events.
Sara perceives this exhibition as a form of gratitude to Oman, the place and its people. She says her experience of living in a calm and peaceful space, close to nature has been an important factor in her artistic growth. The exhibition includes works in oil on canvas and paper as well as multi-media collages, all of which celebrate the emotive beauty of the natural world.
The works on display include some stunning canvases titled ‘Mountain Roses’, ‘Constellations’, ‘Omani Sunset’, ‘Winter Mountain’ and ‘Sand & Mist’. While conveying the natural splendour of Oman through the artist's eye, these paintings also seem to have an element of mysticism which provokes not just deep thought about a land that's blessed with bountiful nature but also the fact that it has been preserved so for generations despite its accelerated pace of modernisation.
Sara, who had attended the Heatherley School of Art, London, graduated in Islamic Art and Architecture from SOAS (University of London), and did her Multidisciplinary Studies from Buffalo State University of New York, believes in the importance of artists being 'educators' if they can. She herself is a consultant at Harbord & Khan Educational Consultants.
Talking about her style of painting, Sara told Muscat Daily that she usually works on multiple canvases at a time and that paintings can take her upto three or four months to complete. “As my work is mostly about emotions and ideas, I have no fixed final image in mind when I start, and the work develops according to its own process. This again can takes time and introspection,” she asserted.
About this exhibition, she said, “This process has been important in making my feelings tangible and visible. I always knew that being in this peaceful space was important for my personal growth, and it’s been nourishing to see it on canvas. In this very difficult year, it has also been important to be able to celebrate something.”
Explaining that abstract often goes beyond people's understanding, Sara noted that people are sometimes not interested in or not concerned about understanding abstract art. “In my experience, looking at abstract work offers people the chance to bring their own experiences, perceptions and stories to what they see. It is a unique opportunity to explore what being human is, how we think and what we feel. Exploring nature and our shared humanity is my main inspiration but so are colour and emotion. And we all experience the world in these ways,” she asserts.
To the uninitiated as far as art is concern, Sara believes that every artwork speaks a story that the artist wishes to convey and that it is inspired as well as governed by varied influences of the time and age that it has been created. However, interpretations tend to vary and may not necessarily match the one that the artist has in mind.
“I am very idea driven, I paint with an intention in mind, but after a point, the painting goes its own way. And I let it go. In the same way, all creative experiences are enriching and, I hope, that people can engage with my work in their own, unique way. Just starting the conversation or raising a question is enough to start with,” she avers.
KARACHI: There’s an interesting expression in the English language: ‘not see the forest for the trees’. It means getting caught up too much in details that one cannot see the complete picture. An exhibition of Sara Riaz Khan’s paintings under way at the Canvas Art Gallery is named The Forest as a Dream. It turns the whole idea on its head by treating the subject as intangible, if not immaterial, reality … something that life often throws at us in the shape of happiness or sorrow.
Now the noun ‘nightmare’ has an inherent undesirable connotation; but ‘dream’ carries a multitude of possibilities. So by making the forest appear like a dream opens it up as a multilayered metaphor for the transient aspects of existence. Transient –– because a dream cannot last for a longish period.
Sara, interestingly, makes things easier for the viewer to grasp in order to know the drift of her creativity. “As I reflected on how to communicate my idea, four distinct stages came to mind: the initial paintings would focus on ‘approaching’ the forest while the second stage, ‘inhale/exhale’, would explore a coming alive of the senses; the third stage would be an ‘immersion’ in the experience, while the final paintings would be my interpretation of ‘being’ the forest.”
This sounds like philosophical musings. No, it’s not. The artist is trying to remind us of something important that we don’t pay enough attention to anymore –– nature as our saviour. That’s what makes life palatable, and in certain cases, enjoyable. One can connect the dots of this story with the help of the fact it’s the book Gossip from the Forest that ‘inspired’ Sara to embark upon this creative journey, considering it through binaries such as ‘hope and fear’. This is where nature plays a pivotal role. Having an affinity with it can make a person more hopeful than fearful, and Sara’s lovely artworks are indicative of that.
The exhibition concludes on Nov 28.
Published in Dawn, November 27th, 2019
A solo art show by Sara Riaz Khan opened at the Canvas Art Gallery, Karachi this week. Titled ‘The Forest as a Dream’ it explores our complex and frequently fraught relationship with our environment. Canvases that suggest cosmic myths and mysteries, and glow with a magical light; inspiring us to foray into a forest fantasy.
Sara is an abstract painter with an increasingly environmental focus. She has held multiple solo exhibitions, her first at VM Art Gallery, followed by Chawkandi and Rohtas galleries. As well as participated in many group shows in Pakistan, London and in Oman where she resides. Her latest show builds on more than 15 years of artistic exploration. As a result it is both timeless and yet of the moment, encapsulating Sara’s growth as both an artist and design educationist. She has also co-authored the upcoming educational book ‘Design Thinking for Schools: Ethical Dilemmas’ (Harbord & Khan).
At the Canvas Art Gallery, Nov 19-29, 2019
According to Sara herself, this particular exhibition was inspired by the book ‘Gossip from the Forest’ by Sara Maitland. This focuses on the connections between fairy tales and the woods.
“I started to think about the forest as a universal platform for magic, transformation, freedom and potential, and its duality as a place of refuge or exile, fear or hope.” 4 Stages of Discovery
The paintings are conceived and displayed in 4 distinct stages poetically named: Approaching the Forest, Inhalation/Exhalation, Immersion and Being. The paintings of the first stage appear to merit a gentler, more organic treatment. Sara calls them the most ‘romantic’. The subtle colors meld to create a mystical world of their own; far removed from our own prosaic existence. Within the gallery space they appeared to glow with an inner life and called to me on a personal level.
The Inhalation/Exhalation stage is more dramatic. The colors are brighter; oranges and reds and the brush strokes bolder, more defiant. This is an exploratory phase where the artist feels she delves into ‘the coming alive of the senses’ as well as a more physical embodiment of the experience.
The third stage of Immersion creates a fresh challenge for the artist. Here Sara uses texture and layers of color to create rich, multi-dimensional works. These inspire you to gaze closely, to explore and truly immerse yourself in this unique world.
The last stage and especially the final painting is the artist’s favourite. This monumental canvas titled ‘Being II’ hangs in solitary glory in its own room. As she tells us, this is where the journey into the forest culminates, where humanity and the environment can truly become one – by ‘Being’ the Forest.
In the present day scenario of escalating climate change, forest fires and global warming, this art show couldn’t be timelier!
Following a tremendously successful opening of her ‘Antidote’ exhibition in London, we had the opportunity to interview artist Sara Riaz Khan, who currently resides in Muscat, Oman’s capital, and learn about her latest artworks, the Middle East art scene and the inspiration behind her exciting and complex multi layered colourful artworks. Her distinctive technique and unique use of colours which appear intertwined like a complex abstract tapestry, create paintings designed to convey nature and the human emotions in a way we have never seen before.
‘Antidote’, an exhibition that explores how artistic practice can restore a sense of self in times of vulnerability and change, is open until 3 July 2019 at RB Twelve design space in Shoreditch, London.
You have a multi-cultural artistic background, which we are always very interested in, could you tell us what are your main influences?
Reading about world myths, the battle of good and evil and stories of transformation throughout my childhood, developed my interest in the human condition. My mother used to read the translation of the Shahnama, the Persian Book of Kings to me and I later enjoyed the Arthurian legends amongst others. Coming to the UK when I was young, I was drawn to the work of the Pre-Raphaelites and have been fortunate in seeing Gustave Moreau’s paintings in Paris. As a result of my father’s knowledge of South Asian miniatures and calligraphy from the Islamic World, I became interested in studying Islamic Art and Archaeology at SOAS (University of London) – the impact of this surfaced recently this year in mixed media works on paper. Experiences and visuals that move me or give me new ideas influence my work practice. The Howard Hodgkins exhibition (London, 2006) and the work of V.S. Gaitonde opened my mind to the possibilities of abstraction. Other artists I have found inspiring include Kazuo Shiraga, Frank Bowling, Huguette Caland, Ibrahim El-Salahi, Fabienne Verdier, Paul Guiragossian, and El-Anatsui. Having this multi-cultural background and interest inspires me to explore ideas about a shared humanity.
You have a very extensive art production, which has evolved through time. How did you arrive to your current style?
Colour and nature have always been consistent themes in my work but abstraction is something I turned to in the last decade or so. Moving to Muscat from London and being in a place with easy access to the mountains and ocean had inspired me to start painting again. In 2007, I was exhibiting semi-figurative, controlled work, when my daughter had a near fatal boating accident. This had a significant impact on my style as the only way I could express my feelings without making myself vulnerable was through abstraction. My paintings became looser and larger with a focus on colour, layering and texture and I have been experimenting with this approach ever since. The work was very controlled at first but started getting looser.
Part of your work is based on the exploration of emotions and how to translate those onto the canvas. Are some emotions easier to reflect than others and do some of the colours or textures have a stronger impact?
A joyous painting can be as complex as one that deals with guilt or anger. For me it is less about the effect of a single colour – as the work is multi-layered- but more about the intention of the colour, the context, how contrast is used and what the colour combinations are. A soft pink can be as powerful as a deep purple, it just depends on how it is used.
How does your creative process work and where do you take inspiration from?
Inspiration mainly comes from emotions, nature, my personal journey and an exploration of a shared humanity. ‘Earth in My Bones’ was a reflection on the elements and minerals that connect us to each other and to nature, while in ‘Songs of Spring’ I tried to find a common human theme through music from different cultures. At times, ideas for paintings originate as pieces of prose or poetry and I mainly explore themes that interest me through a whole body of work.
You have lived and exhibited in the Middle East where there is an increasing interest in contemporary art. Can you tell us a little bit about the art scene in Oman and other Middle East countries?
Oman held its first International Art Fair this year, in which I participated and opened its National Museum a few years ago. In the last fifteen years or so, artists have been increasingly exploring different themes and experimenting with diverse mediums. Overall, the region has been developing National museums and providing creative spaces for the public. Dubai established their annual international Art Fair in 2007 and Abu Dhabi and Qatar are also seriously investing in cultural initiatives.
“Regardless of where I have exhibited, the people who have come to see the work have had varying exposure to abstract art-some are familiar with it and some are not. There are no overt social, cultural or political cues in the work and I focus on human and emotional aspects. What makes more of a difference is the individual experiences that viewers bring to the work” – Sara Riaz Khan
What projects are you working on at the moment?
I am currently co-authoring an educational book, Design Thinking for Schools: Ethical Dilemmas, which will be released worldwide in September. Next month I will go for the unveiling of a painting at a hospital in Chester and on my return to Muscat, I will start on my environmentally focused series to be shown later this year at the Canvas Gallery, Karachi.
After the success of her summer exhibition in London (‘Antidote’), Oman-based abstract artist Sara Riaz Khan is now working on her next series inspired by the link between forests and fairytales. Nature plays a vital role in her work and her life, as does emotion – which, fascinatingly, she sees as colour. We do some fun rapid fires with the artist as well as deeper discussions about her inspirations and projects.
Did you see yourself as an abstract artist when you were studying Islamic art and architecture at SOAS?
I have always responded to colour but abstract art didn’t resonate with me when I was a student. I was more interested in visiting (and later I did get to see) places like the Ibn Tulun Mosque in Cairo and the Alhambra. Becoming an abstract artist was a process I went through much later.
“Wherever I am, nature is what I notice the most. Images of trees always emerge in my informal sketching and my abstract work is full of suggestions of landscape, water, life and growth”
How has nature influenced your art work?
Texture, light, depth, pattern, shape, structure, layers, light and colour – these are aspects of the natural world, and many of these are also elements of art, so there is an immediate connection. Wherever I am, nature is what I notice the most. Images of trees always emerge in my informal sketching and my abstract work is full of suggestions of landscape, water, life and growth. My creativity is driven by ideas relating to nature, emotion, connection and transformation.
You said your art is like colour therapy for yourself and you see emotion as colour, tell us what colour you associate with the following emotions:
Today, these are the colours that spring to mind:
Happiness – Lime green
Anger – Aubergine-brown
Excitement – Deep green
Motherhood – Pomegranate red
Calm – Pale pink
Celebration – Turquoise
Loss – Olive green
Love – Orange pink
You work with a lot of layers. How do you build and excavate?
There is an element of planning that goes into it as I lay down ‘sleeping’ colours in areas, which can be excavated later. So if I establish a structure of turquoise colour in Layer 3, I can scratch back to it perhaps in Layer 10. Usually early layers are more dilute washes and often completely disappear, but the painting would not move forward without them. Palette knives and the application of gesso help me create texture. I also use layering in my digital collages.
“I couldn’t find the human thread I was looking for, but realised that what we do have in common is the capacity to have and share a creative event”
Why did you need greater confidence in yourself for your exhibition ‘Songs of Spring’?
I learnt how to play the guitar many years ago, but my knowledge of music is superficial at best. For ‘Songs of Spring’ I was listening to nature-inspired music from different cultures, looking for a common human thread that I could show in my paintings. Apart from a few visual references such as monsoon rain (Raag Malhar) and Japanese cherry blossoms, I had to depend entirely on my intuition, interpretation of the music through gesture and on my emotions. I couldn’t find the human thread I was looking for, but realised that what we do have in common is the capacity to have and share a creative event.
When do you know that your painting is finished?
When it stops asking for another mark. I usually bring paintings out of the studio to see them on their own when I feel I am close, after a few days I can be sure.
Describe the art crowd in one word in each of these cities:
You have a book coming out in December, can you tell us a little about it?
Design Thinking for Schools: Ethical Dilemmas (Harbord & Khan) is an interdisciplinary, educational resource for teachers and students (Grades 6-10) and will be available for both the International Baccalaureate and American curriculums. My co-author and I taught Design together at an IB school in Muscat and felt that exploring content through values like honour and trust would engage students. One of our interviewees, architect and cultural producer Abeer Sekaily from Jordan, won an award for her shelter for disaster relief. Other people who have contributed are the Astronomer Royal, Alberto Alessi, Dr. Jane Goodall and a NASA astronaut and our student samples include contributions from Pakistan.
“My co-author and I taught Design together at an IB school in Muscat and felt that exploring content through values like honour and trust would engage students”
Describe a day in your life in Muscat.
I am travelling for exhibitions and events more than I used to while I was teaching, so have to make good use of my time working at home. I try and start with some yoga, a quick breakfast and usually spend the morning collaborating with my co-author in Australia. The rest of the day could include painting, digital work, mixed media collages, reading interviews, making notes etc. I often work on several paintings at a time so there is always something to be done!
“LIVING IN OMAN GAVE ME THE PEACE OF MIND TO INITIALLY COMMIT TO MY PAINTING WHEN I WAS ALSO TEACHING”
What has been your favourite city to exhibit at and why?
That’s a difficult question! I would say Muscat when I exhibited the series inspired by the Lahore Fort, ‘There is Beauty, Yet’ (2014) at the Bait Muzna gallery. Living in Oman gave me the peace of mind to initially commit to my painting when I was also teaching. I was happy to share the exhibition with the community and family and friends from around the world were able to attend.
“I was inspired by a book about the link between fairytales and the forest”
What is your next exhibition going to be about?
In my series ‘The Forest as A Dream’ I am exploring the emotional and cultural importance of nature in our lives. I was inspired by a book about the link between fairytales and the forest. By losing our forests, we will lose ourselves so I wanted to focus on that. The exhibition will open at Canvas Gallery (Karachi), 19th November.
Artist Sara Riaz Khan is a symmetrically beautiful woman. Standing at her solo show in sari and short bob, she speaks in a clear, tranquil voice; so when you see her paintings, you are struck by the pandemonium. All around us the walls are lined with massive canvases, splattered, peeled, scrawled and packed. It is a joyous muddle, and it is painted to music.
The show held recently, titled "Songs of Spring" at Karachi’s Chawkandi gallery, had the artist looking for the thread that ties "all of us together." She chose something that she felt everyone could relate to, and picked sounds from Japan, South Asia and Europe, focusing on the themes of nature and spring. So Vivaldi, Ustad Rashid Khan, Beethoven and the Japanese folk song Sakura, among others, jostle to guide her brush. The results are sumptuous. When I meet her she tells me about "sleeping colours": the ones blanketed by other colours. She works intuitively building the layers of her paintings. The works have a primitive, rapid movement, and she revels in her technique. Khan’s colours are happy, the kind that a child could easily name – sometimes a little too easily – but the works have a presence. And often, they even have a certain ferociousness. Her markings are strong and quick, there is a violence to them.
The surfaces are thunderstorms and cloudy seas: there’s frantic energy here, an angry power there.
Some pieces in "Songs of Spring" like Beethoven II have the cloudy veils and dabs of Impressionism. The ones based on the Japanese Sakura (celebrating spring and cherry blossoms) even evokes Monet’s lilies. Deciding not to research the musical traditions, she learnt later that a blue and purple painting was based on music composed specifically for the evening. That these were painted to Shiv Kumar Sharma’s Raag Malhar, or Vivaldi’s concertos is more a private connection and less a literal one. The argumentative gesso and paint strokes are evocative of the peeling walls of our cities, the markings of forgotten civilisations, or even a garden seen through sleepy eyes – and Khan deliberately keeps her canvases loose.
One of the most effective was influenced by the Raag Durbari of Ustad Rashid Khan. The work has the opulence of a Russian palace. Beams of interrupted light form marks in amethyst and yellow, the painting glows like a jewel in translucent veils. I enjoyed the intimacy of "Songs of Spring" – in the entire series you can see Khan’s arm swish across the canvas, her hands scratching and flicking paint. Like the Action painters, you watch her in the act of painting. In a poem she wrote for the show she says "the happening" is done; she calls them "negotiations", and we are privy to them.
Khan set herself a challenge: "Working with unfamiliar sounds required a different kind of effort and this was the most valuable point for me; stretching out of a musical comfort zone." But the challenge, though interesting, isn’t such a big one for her. Her dazzling paintings, with their rich terrain, are monsters she has grappled with and conquered. Her "negotiations" with gesso and paint are friendly and successful, but could be pushed further. Plus, every good relationship could use some spicing up. It would be interesting if she set herself a new challenge: adding another participant to her tea party with colour and canvas. Fans of her work would love to see her experimenting with unfamiliar textures and adding alien surfaces to her plane, similar to the way artists like Meher Afroz experiment with materials. Khan could add other voices to her negotiation in her own joyful spontaneous way. It would make for a great conversation.
Zehra Hamdani Mirza is a Karachi based writer and artist.
When a painter gets inspired by another genre of art, more often than not the result is doubly delightful. And if the former intends to create a work of art on the season of new beginnings with music as their primary inspiration, then imagine how vivacious and lively the artwork would be. An exhibition of Sara Riaz Khan's paintings titled Songs of Spring opened at the Chawkandi Art Gallery on Thursday.
Naturally, spring brings to mind a colourful landscape, a breezy atmosphere. But the artist has set out to take the next step.
Here's how: Khan is looking to explore the different traditions of music and interpret them the way she's felt them. Now music is something whose magic can only be felt, and there are very few things that are more fulfilling than transforming feelings into colours. Interestingly, and therefore, the artist does not have, a one-dimensional approach to the subject.
She wants to go beyond that and conjure an ambient world where compositions keep emerging on a regular basis. How does one know that? Well, as an oil on canvas painting her exhibits are in a larger context, a celebration of life.
A word of caution though: life, with warts and all! This means if music presents all moods of existence, as it's the case with European masters who cram their compositions with ups and downs (and downs and ups) of a story, so should the paintings that are trying to construe it.
Khan does it with aplomb, which is evident from the very first oil-on-canvas piece on display. Speaking of masters, how can she overlook Beethoven? The artist's tribute to the composer is just as grand and opulent as the German genius's ideas were.
And when Khan moves from West to East there's a definite shift in tone and texture. In that category, one must mention a remarkable piece called Raag Darbari, Ustad Rashid Khan - It is impossible for the viewer to pass by the artwork without lending an ear to it (apart from looking at it). The free-flowing, dense strokes match the mellifluous
Raag Darbari of Ustad Rashid Khan.
Notes of Darbari - Oscillating, less sharp, almost nocturnal. Auditory and visual treat in a single frame! The exhibition will continue until March 11.
Sara Riaz Khan’s stunning new exhibition is smorgasbord of colours, observes Amna R. Ali as she interviews the artist
Sara Riaz Khan with the British High Commissioner Philip Barton and Nageen Hyat of the Nomad Gallery at the opening of her exhibition - Courtesy: 37th Productions
Channels course and
Pulse before us,
Flood and rust at
Their own pace and
I stand here right
Beside you, in my
Bones, just renting space.
Muscat-based Pakistani artist Sara Riaz Khan’s latest exhibition ‘Earth in My Bones’ opened at the Nomad Gallery in Islamabad this week. The artist was here from Muscat, where she lives, teaches and paints. This was her first exhibition in Islamabad, in an ideal setting at the Nomad Gallery, one of the capital’s oldest galleries, now located at the Saidpur Village, nestled in the foothills of the Margalla Hills.
Unreservedly abstract, her canvases have a larger-than-life energy, pervading the space that they inhabit. Her work delivers a poignant and strong message of Khan’s deep connection with the natural world; her vibrant colour palette borcol-md-12 col-lg-12 col-xs-12s from nature’s beauty and its dynamic, immense visual resources. An intuitive, spiritual quality is the bedrock of all her canvases in this series, beckoning you to wander into a spatial wonderland where you pose questions and ponder about the very nature of our existence.
Sara’s previous work exhibited most recently at the Bait Muzna Gallery in Muscat (2014)– a solo show entitled ‘There is Beauty Yet’; in group shows at The Drawing Room Gallery in Lahore and the NM Art Gallery in Dubai; at the Chawkandi Gallery in Karachi (2010); and at the V.M. Rangoonwala Gallery (2006).
SRK: Shapes and colours have always caught my attention. My work had already started shifting in 2007, when my family went through a crises and I needed to find a way of expressing myself honestly but still reserving some privacy. By working with layers and stains, I found I could start working through my feelings and I have been developing this approach ever since.
SRK: My family spent much of our time at the farm in the Punjab when I was young and those early experiences, impacting all of my senses, became part of who I am. Some of my earliest mark-marking came from trying to smudge the colours of flowers and leaves.
SRK: I was reflecting on the question you just asked me! In trying to pin-point my connection to nature, I wrote the poem ‘Earth in My Bones’ – initially I was going to add "Mitti" at the end. The words of the poem and some of the colours came to mind as parallel downloads.
SRK: My day to day approach to life is fairly balanced. Painting gives me license to plug into the pure freedom I enjoyed as a child, without this I would be incomplete. By being creative, even writing, I take risks with an abandon I don’t live by.
SRK: Working with young people has been a revelation. I came late to teaching, conscious of why I felt it was important. What I did not realise was how much I would come to respect the journey they are on – one forgets one’s own – and how hard it can be for them. "Painting gives me license to plug into the pure freedom I enjoyed as a child"
SRK: There is a unique, raw natural beauty in Muscat, and somewhat like Islamabad, the mountains provide a significant backdrop. Initially, seeing them split in half to create motorways brought home the significant impact of humans on the environment which was reflected in my work. I also explored some ‘Mountain Women’ images in my 2006 exhibition at the V.M. Rangoonwala gallery, where the trees and earth were transformed into female faces and clothes. More recently, my work has been more introspective, for this exhibition I refer to an "internal topography…a no-man’s land in time and space."
SRK: Oil and Gesso has been the predominant medium in my recent work. Particularly with the larger pieces, the creative process is a physical one as I layer, stain, drip, scratch and excavate the surface. For me, letting go of areas and working over them is a way of moving forward. After a point the painting nods it heads and takes over and then I really don’t know what it will eventually look like!
SRK: I am excited about working on larger canvases and seeing what I can get away with in terms of colour tension. I also love stories (and movies!) and would like to bring in a different kind of narrative in the work.
SRK: We are "renting space" here, on this earth and we need to be mindful of how we use that time, in our treatment of the earth itself as well as of each other.
Various experiences have brought me to where I am today. I have been involved with gallery and research work, arts workshops, and have attended the Heatherly’s School of Art and SOAS University of London, studying Islamic Art and Archaeology. I also hold a Masters in Interdisciplinary Sciences and have been teaching Design for many years.
Nature and the Earth are always there in my work, whatever the concept.
Inks and mixed media are fun, and I have experimented with modelling paste and masking materials. Currently, I mainly use oil and gesso.
A diverse range. Anwar Shamza, Chafic Abboud, V.S. Gaitonde, Howard Hodgkins, the Pre-Raphaelites, Frank Bowling… And I love some of Abbas Kiarostami’s black and white photographs. Recently I have come across some stunning modern calligraphy by Aghighi Bakhshayeshi (Persian) and Larbi Cherkaou (Moroccan).
Artists provide a space where people can be themselves. Highlighting the importance of connecting to oneself and others through creative expression, and broadcasting that connection through media, literary, visual or performance art is an extension of this. They can also call attention to issues that need a voice, and it is essential they support the next creative generation in all fields.
Not at all. But once in a while I will exhibit a piece and not put it up for sale. For example, in this series, I kept a painting for my daughter which I will babysit till she has her own home.
One canvas could be 20 different paintings until it finally settles, so I am not creating for a specific person. Anyone with an open mind could be my audience.
Light washes and areas of thicker colour are layered over each other, which gives me something to scratch back to later on – so there is forward and backward planning as well as just going with the flow. Often areas are obliterated and hidden as the work takes its own direction.
Seeing the Saatchi exhibit, Sensation, some years ago was an eye opener for me. I realized that it didn’t matter what I thought of a particular artwork; by putting new work on display an artist changes an established situation and that is a kind of creativity.
The pieces are all Oil and Gesso on canvas and range from 50 cm x 50 cm to 100 cm x 150cm. I visited the Lahore Fort after some time recently and in spite of some graffiti and neglect, there are still traces of great beauty. By creating a positive experience on my canvases I hoped to highlight the importance of looking after our history. By honoring and learning from our past, we have a better chance of understanding ourselves.
An art exhibition featuring paintings by Sara Riaz Khan opened at Nomad Art Gallery on Monday. The display titled ‘Earth in My Bones’ was inaugurated by British High Commissioner Philip Barton and featured 21 distinct art works, mainly oil and gesso on canvas.
Khan, a Muscat-based artist, is exhibiting in Islamabad for the first time. Earlier, the artist has displayed her pieces in Lahore and Karachi.
Internationally, her work has been showcased in group and solo exhibitions in Dubai and Muscat a number of times.
Khan studied Islamic art and archaeology in London and has been practising art and teaching design for years.
"Painting is the part of me that dreams, and accessing it equilibrates my practical nature. This series reflects an internal topography. I have started scratching the surface of no-man’s land in time and space," she said while speaking about her passion.
"I have a personal connection with nature, which has been consistent in my work. I have been concerned with people increasingly choosing to find differences instead of celebrating similarities. This body of work highlights the fact that we are all ultimately connected to the natural world and made of same elements and minerals," she added.
The exhibition features stunning pieces of artwork in bright and attractive colours. Khan uses a palette of different colours in her work ensuring that no single shade dominates her collection. The texture created through oil on canvas is detailed and intricate yet stunning to say the least.
While discussing evolution of her work, the artist said, "Initially, I was drawn to images of stones, crystals and rock strata. However, as I worked, I found these visuals limiting and needed to source a more internalised and personal response. As I reconsidered my approach and stopped trying to impose imagery from the landscape, the paintings began to emerge from the canvas themselves."
The gallery’s director Nageen Hyat said the exhibition is distinct in its own way. "It is an evocative, multi-layered, poetic and erudite collection of paintings emerging from deeply etched experiences and nature reflections of sub-conscious of the artist. Her work demands attention. It reflects an appropriation of ideas in movement through tonal values, powerful strokes and pure conceptual ideas," she said.
The exhibition is open till October 10. Published in The Express Tribune, September 29th, 2015.
Muscat: When artist Sara Riaz Khan visited the old Lahore Fort and mosque in Pakistan, she was saddened by the state of disrepair the buildings were in, but also found beauty in their remains that inspired a poem and a series of paintings.
Sara, who is a British-Pakistani teacher and artist based in Muscat, will show her work in an exhibition called 'There is Beauty Yet' which opens on Tuesday night at Bait Muzna Gallery. The paintings have layer upon layer of oil paint and gesso on the canvas, colours and patterns scraped and exposed, like archeology on canvas.
"These are two landmark monuments for the city of Lahore and I was just struck by how little it's been looked after. I was disturbed by what I saw and I was very keen to create something positive from what I saw," Sara told Times of Oman.
While Lahore's Mughal-era buildings may be slowly disintegrating and in need of protection and reparations, they have been given new life on Sara's canvases and in a poem she wrote following her visit to Lahore Fort in which she writes about the state of disrepair but the hints of beauty that live on.
The paintings are full of rich colours, ranging from intensely deep fuchsias and turquoises, to warm earthy and mossy tones. They draw on the colours Sara saw while wandering through the 16th century fort. "The fort is mainly in sandstone which is a kind of bright pink, but there is also marble, and there is a lot of fresco painting, so there is all sorts of pigment. There are many colours to choose from, so the hardest thing was hiding the colour," she said.
The decay and neglect of the Lahore Fort is apparent on the canvases, and it speaks of the approach Sara took while painting. Sections of paint were covered over and reworked, all part of the process of creating the final result.
"For me it was a very emotional experience because I felt I was covering over areas that I found beautiful and I was going through the loss on canvas," she explained.
The geometric shapes common to Islamic art and architecture are revealed in some of the canvases, as are the shapes of the arches. Three of the paintings also reflect a room filled with mirrors in which light reflects back onto the space.
Sara's work speaks to her attachment to her culture and her desire to honour it, something which Christine O'Donnell, Bait Muzna's gallery director, recognised immediately. She was attracted to the work which is rich with an emotional attachment to Lahore's Mughal past and communicates a strong message.
"They're aesthetically sound and pleasing. I love the colours and I knew there was something behind them because of the layers," O'Donnell commented.
'There is Beauty Yet' opens at 7:30 tonight at Bait Muzna Gallery. It is sponsored by Mistal and will be inaugurated by HH Sayyida Tania Al Said. It will be on display until December 1.
When art engages art, the work that emerges can reveal a very deep and intimate conversation about creativity itself. Muscat-based artist Sara Riaz Khan’s solo exhibition, ‘There is Beauty Yet’ echoes this with great profundity.
Her collection of 26 paintings, which are on display at Bait Muzna Gallery, are not just fine works in abstraction; the intricate layers of colour and texture on canvas also tell the "story about art that has been neglected and wasted".
For Sara, who teaches design technology at the American British Academy, this story took shape during a visit to the Lahore Fort in Pakistan in January this year.
"The monument had not been looked after. I was really distressed and upset by the neglect of the structure, it's faded frescoes and pocked marble," she said, while remembering how much of this architectural marvel - built during the reign of Mughal emperor Akbar - had fallen to ruins since her last visit several years ago. On second thoughts, she felt that the damage hadn’t been too drastic, "but it was enough for me to notice. Perhaps I was looking for something different that I had forgotten."
Whatever the trigger, Sara came back saddened and heavy, but not entirely dejected. "Though I went back with a lot of negativity, I did not want to be left with this feeling," she said. The powerful need to transform the experience into something more positive overshadowed the undercurrents of negativity surrounding her visit.
"I realised that visually, the fort was still beautiful. There was so much texture, and even though some of the colours had faded, there was a different kind of beauty," Sarah said.
Her quest for this beauty took physical form in a poem, which she eventually translated into a series of paintings, now at display at the gallery.
Each of Sara’s art works enjoys a wild run of colours - the inspiration for her palette coming from the earthiness and dynamism of the fort.
"For the colours, I was really thinking fort, sandstorm and brick, which is why you will see a lot of , pink and purple in my work. But as I kept painting, I realised that it was taking a direction of its own. So though I started with a sense of colour, I did not have absolute control over it," she said.
But that’s just one aspect of her work. The true nature of Sara’s artwork is in its many layers, which add depth to her paintings.
Some of her canvases hide her forms under ten to 15 layers of oil and gesso through a meticulous yet often unplanned process of staining, layering, scratching, scrambling, obliterating, regenerating, flicking and rotating the canvas.
"There is some planning and a lot of intuition in my work. Each of my paintings may have been ten different paintings till it decided on what it wanted to be," she said.
What makes Sara’s paintings intriguing is that her subject is often stylised in a way that makes it almost inconspicuous. It’s only close observation that reveals arches, geometrical shapes and Arabesque designs, possibly pointing to Sara’s vision of the Mughal fort of her memory.
The artist, however, describes her style as a vocabulary, which helps her engage with the natural world. "The underlying impulse of my work is the natural world. Being connected to nature is something I remember from my earliest memories, it is part of who I am and how I understand myself."
It’s this draw to nature that makes her solo exhibition in Muscat more rewarding. The artist, who has previously been showcased in Karachi, Dubai and Lahore, was looking forward to exhibiting her work solo in Oman - her home for over 12 years now. This place is the perfect haven for artists, she said.
"The light is amazing, and you’ve got mountains all around you. It is very inspiring in that sense. Being enfolded by nature gives you ample time to relax, process and come back rejuvenated."
‘There is Beauty Yet’ will run till December 1.
Showing her work at the Bait Muzna Gallery, Muscat (November 2014), Sara Riaz Khan inducts the city of her roots Lahore, with its resplendent history as the setting for a poetic statement, worked with a finely balanced palette. In her artwork, the artist narrates the changes wrought by time and to a sensitive audience, it would appear that the source of the artist’s inspiration is the power of nature that triumphs over the greatness of kings. While visiting the once magnificent palace complex of Lahore Fort, established by the Emperor Akbar centuries ago, the Oman based Pakistani artist reflected on the richly decorated representation of Mogul greatness that is now reduced to a neglected symbol of historic times. Expressing her feelings with a spontaneous abstract idiom of diverse coloration, the artist freely creates artworks of tactile layers, while striving to discover the essence of nature in the once decorative aspect of a historic landmark.
"This series is my personal response to finding pockets of beauty amongst the exposed brickwork and fading colours; it is a reflection of hope in the midst of neglect and an interpretation of what I saw where my shadow fell".
Sara Khan has a wide experience of art study that encompasses Heatherly’s School of Fine Art; Buffalo State University, and the University Of London School Of Oriental Studies.
Her work has been exhibited in Pakistan in prestigious galleries in Lahore and in Karachi, and more recently in Dubai.
Viewing her latest series is a visual journey as one discovers nuances of diffused media and hues in compositions that appear to encapsulate an enchanting vision of subtly changing lightness. Sara Khan belongs to the company of artists who emphasize a subject by focus on colour, following the tradition of non-figurative paintings first produced by Kandinsky in 1911. His work emerged from the desire to touch the soul of the viewer with the `physical power of colour’. From that time on art history has an outstanding succession of painters who were inspired by poetry expressed in brushstrokes. Sara Riaz Khan belongs to the company of those who, in the words of Malevich, wanted to free art 'from the ballast of the concrete world.'
Viewing the artist’s work, one enjoys the sensuous merging of colour and texture, the abstract marks in a setting that is timeless yet contemporary. One senses the artist’s contemplation is linked to a spiritual dimension, one in which the real and imaginary are merged to create an ambience of timelessness. Colours fused create a profound effect on an audience, suggesting the passing of time through seasons of family history.
Communicating meaning without figuration is challenging, in Sara Khan’s work it appears she is inventing a new still life idiom. The artist’s art practice, the skillfully fused brushstrokes, is based on a passion for painting and the desire to explore the medium creating beauty that is haunting though enigmatic.
Marjorie Husain SHE Magazine November 2014
A series of canvases illuminate the walls of the Chowkandi Gallery, balanced centrally by the largest pieces, the genesis of the exhibition "A Moment of Grace" and "After the Storm". These are the only titled canvases in the gallery, allowing the viewer tremendous freedom of interpretation. It is important not to rush the viewing but to take time and look into the depths. Groupings have been made according to size and treatment so there is a cohesiveness and natural flow to the collection. The fact that the canvases are signed at the back means there is no disruption in the enjoyment of the colour and composition.
This is the second and more mature solo exhibition by Sara Khan, whose last exhibited pieces in 2006 constituted a more playful and innocent exploration of her world in which more clearly defined images were visible. Art has always been an inherent and defining preoccupation for her from early childhood and time spent in the countryside has connected her definitively to the earth. The artist has been involved with the arts over the last two decades in a variety of different ways; studying Islamic Art and Architecture, working in an art gallery, attending art college, being involved with events and seminars, acting as an artist-in-residence and most recently, teaching.
A personal tragedy in 2007 was the stimulus for this current body of work. Immediately prior to this incident, Khan had been experimenting with texture and wash, inspired by a mottled green moonscape. Coming back to painting after an interval of a year and a half, she realised , reflecting on her work that this was the means of expression she could use. Undertaking a looser and more abstract approach, Khan was able to use washes, layers, stains, and texture, revealing and covering over areas according to the demands of each painting. A private person, she was thus able to engage with the canvases honestly without feeling vulnerable about what was being revealed.
There is an energy and movement within these pieces, and although water, forest and stone are implied at, viewers bring their own experiences to what they see. Khan’s earlier pieces indicate an intense struggle, while she mentally battled with the situation she and her family experienced. She has experimented in different ways, pitching light against a visible darkness and in some cases one can feel the willpower in the seams where the contours meet. Working her way through the paintings allowed Khan an outlet she would otherwise not have had and clarified some of the issues in her mind. Her artist’s statement hints at a semblance of acceptance, and a measure of self-empowerment, "Light cannot banish the dark, there is no easy victory, but one can always choose which way to turn".
Stemming from distress, these pieces still convey a powerful sense of vitality and of the aesthetic . In spite of the lack of obvious imagery, the heavily textured areas create and maintain visual interest. In her 2006 exhibition, colour was an essential ingredient, and this has been developed further in the current work. Sunburnt oranges, waterfall blues and monolithic greens dominate and recede. Some combinations are harmonious whilst others such as strong reds and bcol-md-12 col-lg-12 col-xs-12ns take each other head on in confrontation.
Even in the darkest paintings, Khan has consciously included slivers of relief. She feels that "it would be simplistic to label the pieces positive or negative depending on colour schemes, they are products in part of self-examination, exploration, incomprehension and gratitude, they are concrete proofs of my belief in Life."
Faiza S. Khan, Express Magazine, 2010