KARACHI: 

Artist Sumaira Tazeen highlights the struggles of immigrants living abroad through an artful combination of miniature paintings, the concept of a garden and recurrence of gold in her exhibition, titled ‘Sabz Bagh [the grass is always greener on the other side]’.

Rich thought reverberates throughout her works, currently on display at the VM Art Gallery. The show opened on Thursday and will run till February 4.

She has set her focus on the way many people think that all their problems will be resolved if they manage to go abroad. “The struggles are different there,” said the artist, who now lives in Canada. “Starting from scratch is not easy either.”

The title of the exhibition builds on the common perception that life will be prosperous once we move overseas. While the artist does not negate the idea that it will eventually become prosperous, she points out that it comes through hard work and perseverance.

“Everybody wants to be the king,” she said, pointing towards her work, titled ‘Taar Kashi’. “Just like in taar kashi embroidery involves intricate sewing and pulling of threads, similarly, one has to struggle to become the king.”

Tazeen’s flirtation with gold on her artworks is marvellous and appeals to the senses. Gold is also symbolic of prosperity and pomp, both of which are enjoyed by kings. In ‘Taar Kashi’, a monarch butterfly is the focal point of the painting. This butterfly, on a circle made through gold leaf gilding, serves as a symbol of the king.

Guided by her inclinations towards miniature, Tazeen has focused on the borders used particularly in the paintings of the Mughal era. Patterns of flowers, birds, leaves and other symbols of nature are part of these borders.

“The Mughal kings liked to think they were God,” said Tazeen with particular reference to Mughal king Akbar. “They liked to have their portraits in the centre, surrounded by images of these flowers and plants.”

She went on to explain that flowers and plants are found in a garden and the concept of a heaven is also that of a garden. Her installation, titled ‘Sabz Bagh I’, comprised images of miniature flowers and clouds gilded onto the walls. She told The Express Tribune that she gilded these images in just 10 days. Tazeen had conducted interviews of three Bengali, Gujrati and Punjabi women in Canada and kept the recordings as part of the installation. Moreover, there were video clippings of different aspects of life in Canada, which included butterflies, Niagara Falls, festivals, etc.

According to Tazeen, the interviews highlighted the difficulties that the women faced when they migrated to Canada, while the video clippings showed the beauty of life in the country. Such a contrast could be seen in yet another work, titled ‘Saeed’. The artist said that the title means happiness and the artwork reflects on finding happiness in the dark.

According to curator Riffat Alvi, the show was exceptional. “We had never done a show on miniature as yet. Sumaira works are installation-based and show that she is a senior graduate of NCA [National College of Arts].”

Published in The Express Tribune, January 16th, 2015.