Written by Tanja Zec—O’Neill
Munazza Naeem is a local artist painter and printmaker who moved to Canada in 2001, shortly after graduating from Visual Arts program at the National college of Art and Design in Lahore, Pakistan. Since her arrival she took some post diploma credit courses from Ontario College of Art and Design and continued her education at Wayne State University in Detroit where she obtained a Masters degree in Fine Art. She has exhibited actively for years afterwards at local, national and international galleries and art centres, and is also active in few art organizations where she contributes to the education of the public on importance of art and printmaking.
Munazza had stayed in active communication with her peers and professors, as well as some leading artists throughout Pakistan. She recently made a personal and professional visit to her home country so we asked her to share her impressions of the culture, art market and printmaking trends in the country lately known only for troubled political times.
Q: How often do you visit Pakistan, and what were your first impressions upon landing?
A: This is my third trip home, Lahore, since I moved to Canada in 2001. I recently visited Pakistan after seven years and I was pleasantly surprised to find the country changed tremendously. The urban life does not differ too much from the cities in west. Many bridges were built, shopping centres and schools. We have KFC, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and many other western shop chains have sprouted everywhere. A progress in technology is also very visible. Things are changing fast. Media and internet are also more present. Society is more westernized. In one way this is positive move because people are more educated. The negative aspect is that the commercialism is taking its toll on traditional family values.
Q: How did the art market change since you left Pakistan?
A: Since 1999, the higher education has changed a lot with the introduction of new subjects on art and culture. Also, more universities have opened a Masters and PhD programs in visual arts. In the past there was only
bachelor of visual art and art history available. So richer educational programs exist now, and the international residency programs have started at Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi universities.
Many galleries have opened up and are featuring a great number of national and international artists. There are public galleries as well and private studios which are active. A good examples are the Ajaz gallery, The Drawing Room gallery, Art Scene and Rohtas as really good exhibiting spaces where I have plans to exhibit my art work in future.
There is an increased number of Pakistani artists that are internationally known: the best examples are Rashid Rana and Semina Mansuri, who is teaching here at University of Windsor School of Visual Arts.
Q: What kind of trends in art are visible at the moment?
A: The traditional realistic work is still visible, but installations, film making, abstract and contemporary art are gaining popularity. You might find interesting that calligraphy is a part of abstract expressionism movement. Sadequain, who is the founder of this movement has the strong following in Pakistan and abroad. Sadequain was responsible for the renaissance of Islamic calligraphy in Pakistan. He was one of the greatest calligraphers who helped transform it into serious expressionist paintings.
Q: What changes in the art did you notice in the past 10 years?
A: I have noticed more installations, more modernism, and abstraction. While I was a student, many of my professors took realism as a mainstream. Many artists stuck to figurative and traditional art expression. Today there is more exploration in the techniques and ideas and a noticeable journey into an abstract art.
Q: Did you feel it is the right time to exhibit and what was your motivation to try?
A: Pakistan is my home and I wanted to make a connection. I exhibited in Canada and USA but never exhibited at home since 1999. I wanted to make people aware that I am a Pakistani artist, though living and creating abroad and to give them a chance to see my work.
Q: What are the galleries you are exhibiting at the moment?
A: Ajaz Gallery, The Drawing Room Gallery, National Gallery of Pakistan, and Gallery 6.
Q: Did you find your work very different than what you saw at galleries in Pakistan?
A: From what I have seen there is a great variety represented. Some Pakistani artists have been very active in exhibiting in Pakistan while still living abroad. I do find my art different regardless of the country I create in. I paint on social and political issues as well as taking history themes and adapting them to the contemporary understanding. My work is not just decorating the wall. I want to convey my personal experiences as Pakistani-Canadian artist who has broader perspective of the world because I live abroad.
Q: Is there any talented recent graduates who are making any significant efforts in the world of art that you were able to see?
A: I have seen many young artists who are struggling, such as Atif Khan, Zaaira Ahmed and few others. Atif Khan is using traditional Moghal miniature-paintings and popular images from the everyday life and juxtaposes them. He tries to subvert their original contextual and give new meanings and insights into contemporary Pakistani life and its social and political issues. Zaaira Ahmed’s prints depict the varied situations through which she is passing. She shows the different phases of lives of others, as well as her own. Zaaira likes to often say about her art that she works around the passage of time ‘before, during and after’ certain life events, as there is peace after every storm. Her current work is related to the misery of certain human beings all around the world, whose lives are affected by natural and man-made disasters.
Q: Is printmaking existent as a form of art in Pakistan?
A: Printmaking is popular in Pakistan and on pretty much the same level as it is in Canada. I have seen a lot of improvement in the art and culture in general.
However, the problem is that people are more educated and aware of movements and trends in the world, but
do not have enough money to implement all the things they see as necessary or beneficial. A good example is R.M Naeem, a professor at National College of Arts in Lahore who has initiated an international residency program using his own financial means without any assistance from the government. Though there is slight betterment in the government funding to the artists, it is not sufficient.
Q: What print techniques are most popular?
A: Etchings and aquatint for the most part.
Q: Can you tell us of any printmakers representing the arts in Pakistan?
A: There are many established printmakers who studied abroad and teach and practice in Pakistan; Afshar Malik, Naazish Ata-Ullah, and Anwar Saeed are the most visible and influential at the moment.
Q: Is printmaking more or less popular than some other art forms?
A: In the past printmaking was not as popular as the painting, but now-days it is on the same level. The value given to the painting was not the same that was awarded to photography and printmaking. The public was not very well informed. I have seen many people who studied in Canada, USA and UK that are now teaching in Pakistan. The globalization has helped a bit as well. The information and knowledge are more immediately available through internet. Printmakers struggle a lot, but many are exhibiting in Pakistan and doing very good job of it, so the public awareness is heightened.
Q: Is there a Printmaking Association in Pakistan?
A: Unfortunately no, but printmakers in Pakistan are well connected. There are many solo and group shows all the time where they gather and exchange ideas.
Q: Is there any improvements in the printmaking techniques or activities you saw can be made?
A: There is no non-toxic printing done in Pakistan at the moment. I offered workshops during the summer for non-toxic printmaking here in Windsor. I believe that printmakers here and in Pakistan need to get themselves better informed about the chemicals they are using. Some printmakers now have health issues due to the usage of toxic chemicals.
Q: Is there Canadian – Pakistani collaboration in printmaking?
A: None that I saw presently.
Q: Did you start any collaboration with artists?
A: I am thinking about bringing some representative art from Pakistan and organizing an exhibit here in Canada. This is a long term project that requires a lot of communication and work. I want to make Canadian public aware of the strength of art of Pakistan. Or even bring a Canadian art to Pakistan. We will see.
Q: Is there a Pakistani community here in Windsor?
A: Yes there is a large community here in Windsor, Canada and in Detroit, Michigan as well. In Windsor there is not so much of an artistic activity, though I had a number of exhibits at the cultural centre. Main cultural activity within Pakistani community is largely in Detroit and the area. There are many prominent Pakistani artists in Canada who are teaching in the universities and practice visual arts. I believe my community in Ontario and Michigan could be very responsive to some of my future plans.