One On One: Naveen Shakil

In conversation with inspirational artist Naveen Shakil about her journey from Pakistan to the streets of New York

Amna Khan June 25, 2018

Happiest when covered in paint and interacting with communities outdoors, Naveen Shakil’s story makes you believe in destiny and chance encounters. We get in conversation with this inspirational artist about her life changing journey from Pakistan to the streets of New York and Melbourne; where you’ll find her bringing the walls to life through her mesmerising art.

Sitting in a striking fluorescent yellow sundress, Naveen Shakil’s aura comes across as free-spirited and full of energy as we exchange pleasantries. On a hot summer day, seated outdoors at Xander’s Café, Naveen and I talk about her life changing journey from a regular architecture graduate to landing her dream job at  Estée Lauder as a graphic designer to a freelance muralist always looking for a wall as her next big canvas. Sitting beside her is her mother who is her constant companion whenever she is in K-town and apart from that, a woman who has had a great impact on her in becoming the artist that she is today and her biggest support.

“I started exhibiting around 2015 but then my graphic design career also started picking up. Plus, I didn’t want to create just for the sake of creating something; it became so much about creating for a purpose that year. Apart from that, the biggest realisation was the fact that I love being outdoors and experiencing life. I asked myself why would I want to limit my art to galleries where only a small percentage of the population would want to or afford to go and see; that was when I realised I want to do murals/walls,” shares Naveen.

Naveen’s love for interacting with her surroundings and fully immersing herself in cultures is what makes her what they typically call an ‘urban artist’. As we sit and talk about her riveting journey, she carefully observes the walls around her and wishes she could bring them to life through her art. “A friend offered me my first mural gig at the restaurant ‘Loco’ which was yet to open at the time. I had a meeting with the owner and they gave me full creative freedom. I worked day and night for three days straight; I felt so loved and appreciated when my family and friends all came together to support me,” she added.

As an artist, Naveen has by now immersed herself into many cultures via her art and travelling. Looking back on her many experiences, she recalls one that stands very close to her and one that taught her that art has no boundaries or borders – it speaks one language and that’s of humanity and love. “Since artists have a global community on social media now, I came across an Indian artist’s page and commented on one of her works. We got talking and she invited me to paint a mural in Texas – as art lovers we shared our journeys with each other and in no time became super close. I realised that day, art has no boundaries or borders and it can be used to spread love and bring people together.”

Not your average mum and daughter relationship, Naveen and her mother share a special bond that also greatly helped her in finding her calling and following her dreams. Her mother’s words still resound in her head whenever she thinks about the day she quit her job at Estée Lauder and fully committed to murals. “I was at the top of my game last year in New York, I had the best job, friends circle, apartment etc. I thought to myself this is it, I have achieved it all! The truth, however, started to sink in when I started waking up in tears and had no idea what was happening to me. Something just didn’t feel right! I shared this with my mother and she turned around and said to me “‘The thing about finding your calling is that you can’t do it part time!’” these words changed my perspective completely and I realised the importance of this woman in my life.”

Looking back at her childhood, Naveen’s mother describes her as an independent child who instinctively reached out for her brushes more than any other tool. “One of her teachers at school asked me if someone from the family is an artist and I would be standing there in confusion because none of us were. She said to me that day that my daughter is going to be an artist. According to her it was the way she held the brush and till this day whenever she meets me she says ‘I told you so’!” she adds.

Our conversation is briefly cut short by Sikander Rizvi of Xander’s Café who dropped by to check on his staff and quickly came to have a chat with Naveen. The two had a quick chat about Naveen’s trip to Melbourne where she went to paint a mural for a restaurant and about the vibrant food scene there. The conversation was a quick reminder of how much she loves interacting with the community and meeting like-minded people. Her involvement with HeF Clothing for their first pop-up this year was another instance where she got the opportunity to express herself unabashedly and without the fear of living up to the norms and typical standards of society. “HeF pop-up was a platform where I felt the most comfortable and accepted as an artist in Pakistan. I was covered in paint and nobody judged me for being true to myself and we’re talking about celebrities like Mahira Khan and Ayesha Omar here. It was an important event for me to understand that there are people who will accept you for who you are and not for the brands you wear or the car you drive,” says Naveen.

A big part of her struggle as an artist was to convince her father, who had always been wary of her inclination towards art and making a career out of it. Like any father, he wanted his daughter to opt for a career that pays well and gives financial security. “He would always shy away from telling people that I’m an artist and quote acceptable titles such as graphic designer or architect. I look at it as one of my biggest achievements till date to slowly and gradually get him to just accept the way that I am,” she says soaring with pride.

“One day I asked him what his biggest fear for me is, he replied saying ‘that you won’t have money’. I told him that what if I took up the lucrative promotion at Estée Lauder and in six months I could earn up to a million dollars but I won’t be able to see you more than two days in a year and I can’t talk to you on the phone too because I’m always working. I asked him if it would all be worth it and I think it made him think!”

Naveen confesses that being an artist doesn’t promise a steady stream of income but for what it’s worth, it allows her to be herself and spend time with her family and friends.

As we get to the end of our conversation, Naveen touches on the topic of her future projects and where her passion is taking her next. Her nomadic spirit and love for travel is taking her back to New York where she will be pursuing a number of exciting mural projects. “The universe is knocking at my door! It’s saying artist, artist, artist,” she confesses with her eyes gleaming.

As parting words, she describes her vision and what her ultimate goal is as an artist. “My goal is to interact more with the younger generation of Pakistan; probably talent that is not already at Indus or NCA because you can inspire even a kid living on the streets and he may just be the next Michelangelo but just hasn’t been exposed to art.”


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