Diamonds in the rough

Saturday Studio director Laila Premjee says academic pressure forces enthusiastic children to not pursue art

Saadia Qamar March 08, 2016
Saturday Studio is actively involved in arranging art workshops at schools. PHOTO: LAILA ODHO PREMJEE


In a society where many still believe their kids must only grow up to be doctors or engineers if they wish to lead successful lives, opting for art as a lifetime career seems to be a daring, yet daunting task. While today’s youth often faces discouragement from parents, extended family as well as peers when choosing their field of interest, most are hesitant to voice their wish to study art in Pakistan.

In January 2010, art director Laila Odho Premjee inaugurated the Saturday Studio at her Karachi residence in a bid to impart knowledge to art students and enthusiasts of all ages. The plan was to encourage children to take up the field and show parents how creative their offspring are. Seeing the interest shown by her patrons, Premjee shifted the studio to Saba Avenue in the city, thinking all along that her art school might contribute to promoting the field in the city. However, all of that changed. Given the deteriorating security situation in the city back in the day, she was forced to shut the school down and bring it back to her home.

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Nonetheless, she hasn’t lost hope. Her Saturday Studio still conducts exhibitions of the works of its students at art galleries and is also actively involved in arranging workshops at schools, offering children a chance to explore their aesthetic side. “Art is about creativity and leisure and it has to be done in a space that gives students that sense of comfort,” she told The Express Tribune, adding, “They show a lot of interest in art, be it toddlers or preteens.”

Premjee said there is immense academic pressure on the children and schools have become highly competitive. “As a result, children are swamped with coursework and they have little time left for other things,” she mentioned. Premjee cited a lack of promotion at school level as one of the fundamental reasons why many enthusiasts are never able to pursue art. The studio did serve as an alternate space for such children but there was another problem. “Parents also feel the need to cut back on extra expenses due to high tuition fees and art is always at the bottom of their list of preferences.”

She stated the field of arts has merged into commercial media and hence been reduced to fields like textile design and digital art. “This is the only reason why these few art schools and colleges still exist,” she added.

She said artists are never given the same importance in our society as musicians and film people, even though art is such a crucial part of our tradition and history. “TV channels should start training programmes dedicated to art … for children particularly. Artists should be interviewed on television and their work should be displayed so people can see how much talent we have in our country,” added Premjee.

Commenting on the lack of platforms for artists to showcase their works, she said, “Yes there is a dearth … However, Karachi Biennale is one such platform. It is an upcoming art festival that will prove to be very helpful,” she stated.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 9th, 2016.

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