The Playboy magazine’s pink bunny or The Rolling Stones’ big red lips are common logos reprinted on t-shirts, mugs and even handbags, but artist Amra Khan decided to embroider them on niqabs as an experiment.
“It started off as an experiment in Lahore and now we’ve brought it to Karachi,” says the Lahore-based artist who is showcasing her work at the Canvas Gallery alongside Mohsin Shafi. The artists, both alumni of the National College of Arts (NCA), Lahore, will display their works at the exhibition “The Noose” till June 7.
Khan explains that people can often express what they feel on the inside through their apparel and accessories. “But a common notion with women who cover their face is that they can’t bring to the surface what they feel inside,” says Khan. “We have certain stereotypes in our mind about such women but we need to realise that it’s very grey, not all black and white.”
The artist said that it would be wrong to assume that a woman who chooses to wear a veil is not aware of the adult magazine Playboy or is not familiar with high-end couture like Chanel. “It is probable that she watches MTV. The liberals and the not-so-liberals are pretty much the same but the latter have certain preconceived notions attached to them by the former.”
Experimenting through art
The series of women with embroidered veils started as an experiment to catch people’s reactions. “There’s this craze in Lahore that everything has to be embroidered and so I took to the sewing machine and decided to go for this project,” Khan said while talking to The Express Tribune. Her work was initially displayed at the NCA.
Khan chose to be a part of her art experiment and tried on her veil with a zipper in public to feel the reaction instead of just observing it. “I wore the niqaab to the canteen at NCA and had my chai and samosa like any other person.” She also ventured into the bazaars in the posh localities of Lahore, such as the Liberty Market in Gulberg where she was told to leave from one shoe shop. “There were people speaking in English and saying things like ‘How does she breathe in those things?’ while they were right next to me. They probably assumed a niqaab-posh woman wouldn’t speak English,” says Khan while narrating her experience. “But interestingly, in bazaars such as Ichhra and Dharampura, people appreciated my art and asked where I found my veil.”
Postcards of the series are on sale at the gallery in Karachi which is a way of eliciting reactions in a variety of people, says Khan. “From getting it stamped to having it delivered, it will come across many people and hopefully, it will make them think.”
Published in The Express Tribune, May 30th, 2012.