Mystic exploration: ‘I am’ — an artist’s journey

Artist uses herself as model in portraits

Some of the artist’s individual pieces as well as series are on display. PHOTOS: HUMA CHOUDHARY/EXPRESS

ISLAMABAD: An artist’s work gives a glimpse into the inner workings of his or her mind.

It also ignites something in the beholder’s mind, an emotion that is usually locked up and hidden under layers even from one’s own consciousness. The job of an artist, thus, becomes to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comforted.

Photographic artist Soofia Mahmood’s work, although subtle and simple, urges the viewer to come face-to-face with dark idiosyncrasies of society that eventually seep into all aspects of a woman’s life.

“Life holds many mysteries, but the biggest enigma for anyone is oneself. Every image that I create, every frame that you see, every colour that you absorb, unfolds a tiny part of the mystery that is me; that is you,” said Mahmood.

On display, at My Art World gallery, are some of her individual pieces as well as series titled Anarkali, Chooriyaan, Schizophrenia, I See and Lost Tale.

Mahmood uses herself as the model in her self-portraits. One can see her in a shuttlecock burqa, bangles and mehndi, braided hair and holding a teapot.

However, the mask of the shuttlecock burqa is hindering enlightenment, the hand adorned in bangles and mehndi is communicating profanity, the braid is about to be cut with a pair of scissors and the teapot is drizzling tea on the floor.

Many gallerists in Pakistan shied away from displaying her work deeming it too provocative, however, Zara Sajid, curator of My Art World welcomed her with open arms. “I’m not scared of showing such art, I have shown even darker art pieces,” she said, adding that “dark is a relative term, what is dark to one may be light to another.”

The work hits the gut, as powerful art usually does. It is a feminist’s truth soaked love-letter to dogma and convention in a society where women battle fears in all aspects of life.

Her work is instantly relatable and evokes a myriad of emotions, from human vulnerability, to anguish to cognitive dissonance to individuality and despair.

Although Mahmood identifies herself as a feminist, she also realises the negative connotation.

“Women in our society are mired by countless fears. The way to overcome fears is through self-awareness which comes by exploring oneself. For me, I get to explore myself through my artwork,” said Mahmood.

It was a painful divorce that led her to photography and ultimately to herself. During that time she fought many battles including custody issues of her daughter, now nine years old.

The silver lining during this time, for Mahmood, was exploring the universe of photography. She went to Lahore to take a photography course and then attended workshops in Lahore, Bangkok and Singapore. To-date she has showcased work in a solo show at Pikture Gallery in Bangkok in 2011, a group show at Al-Hamra Lahore in 2012 and has represented at Fadi Mogabgab-Art Contemporain in Beirut.

The art exhibition goes on till July 31.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 29th, 2015.

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