Few dare to follow their passions over worldly professions. Not only is it regarded with contempt, but the road less travelled is also prone to driving one away from their comfort zone and into a precarious land, fraught with uncertainty and risk.
Yet, that is the route digital illustrator and freelance artist Omar Gilani has taken to carve out a niche for himself in the realm of contemporary art.
Gilani, 28, exemplifies the conviction of defying convention to pursue his calling: multidisciplinary arts. His artwork is a mix of traditional drawings and digital illustrations, depicting themes which are culturally and socially relevant.
“My aim is to try and make digital art an accepted art form,” said the engineer-turned-artist, who takes inspiration from the late renowned painter Ismail Gulgee, who followed a similar path in terms of turning to art from in his engineering profession.
“I’ve seen Gulgee draw live and that is an experience,” said Gilani. He recalls doodling and drawing since childhood, but never quite thought of himself as an artist. “To pursue art was not even an option in Peshawar where I grew up. National College of the Arts was a dream destination but my parents always wanted me to go for a more solid and stable career,” he added.
This led him to pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering at Ghulam Ishaq Khan university and later he received a scholarship to pursue a master’s degree in the same field and an MPhil in Robotics from George Washington University.
Still, art remained his prime focus and motivation and he kept sketching along the way. “I began digital manipulation and created some art pieces on a digital tablet at university,” said Gilani, who has had no formal training in arts. He added that the compact gadget offered a good balance as opposed to setting up heavy art equipment such as canvas and easel in his small dorm room.
According to Gilani, his forte is portraiture. I enjoy the process of trying to capture a person’s essence in colour and light,” said Gilani, who has painted prominent some Pakistanis such as Nusrat Fateh Ali, Imran Khan, Malala Yousafzai and Mukhtaran Mai, historical figures such as Jinnah and Gandhi and unsung heroes such as Aitzaz Hasan and Iqbal Masih.
Gilani juggles art, writing and teaching simultaneously. He has been writing technical reports, creative pieces and blogs. He is currently scripting a graphic novel based on Pakistan. His blog post on “Why Malala Yousafzai should not win the Nobel Prize” was shared 3,000 times in just one day when Malala was co-nominated for the prize.
Art, for Gilani, is not restricted to a particular medium. He has set up a design business called “Aain Bhain Shain” and will soon be launching a t-shirt line designed with a dash of slapstick humour and tinge of local art. “I feel that there is a beautiful, vibrant and idiosyncratic element to Pakistani society. We are, in many ways, ridiculous people but we don’t like to notice that about ourselves and there is such wonderful culture that we are ignoring. So this is a celebration of that,” he said, explaining the motivation behind the design business.
Gilani has also designed graphics for organisations such as Save The Children, United Nations, British Council and The Missing Slate. He has taught at University of Engineering and Technology, Abbottabad and is currently working to organise an art residency to collaborate with multidisciplinary artists at a Chak Shehzad farmhouse.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 3rd, 2014.