OK!PAKISTAN SORAYA SIKANDER – The extremely talented Pakistani artist, is making waves around the world for her landscapes and organic forms. She has been ranked as one of Pakistan’s best known painters making it big internationally, listed as ‘Artist to watch’
FASCINATED by landscapes, Soraya Sikander’s paintings encompass her unique style and vibrant colours to capture the different forms of nature. She highlights the beauty around her through her work. “Landscapes are an authentic representation of a place; removed from politics and business they show you the very soul of a city,” shares the talented artist. Soraya has studied at the Beaconhouse National University in Lahore and the London Atelier of Representational Art, where she produced one of her most well known sculptures called Bride. She works with oil on canvas, ink on paper, and as an environmentally conscious artist her installations are made from found and recycled objects. For instance ‘Bride’ is composed of recycle material; wire, foam and plaster.
She has held twelve international group and solo exhibitions in cities like Singapore, Dhaka and London. Her most recent exhibition, Embassy Art took place in the Netherlands at Galerie Patries Van Dorst in Wassenaar. Her work has garnered positive reviews all over the world and she is an ambassador for the women of Pakistan.
Tell us a bit about yourself, how did you first get interested in pursing art as a career?
I have always been sketching and drawing since I can remember. I took up art in my GCEs and from school went on to pursue it. Drawing comes most naturally to me. Especially when I am outdoors. Certainly does help that my Mother, Seemah, is a huge art connoisseur, critic and author.
Your latest exhibition was held in the Netherlands and you showcased your paintings of Karachi, what was the reaction you got from the audience?
I painted the Karachi seascape and it was fascinating for the Dutch public.
They got to see a city they knew very little about but had only heard of in terms of violence, death and decay.
My work received immense acclaim and I am super thrilled with the reaction! It was most refreshing for the Dutch audience. My approach to landscape painting is inventive, unique, unconventional and entirely my own.
You have had quite a multi-cultural experience, living in different cities. Which city has had the greatest influence on your art and why?
I have traveled extensively and lived all around the world but U would say the city which has most impacted my art is Karachi. I find it to be hauntingly beautiful, engaging, challenging and untamed. It has a depth to it and is extremely intelligent. If you listen closely, Karachi is bursting with stories.
Inspiration can come in any form and can constantly change, where do you get your inspiration from these days?
From Karachi’s gray tonal sea and the gorgeous lit green Punjab landscape
You paint a lot of landscape, what do you find so fascinating about this type of art?
In nature there is nothing tame or settled about the natural world. You cannot control it. It is an unpredictable, larger-than-life force that can at times be violent. There is nothing polite about a landscape and it is almost never predictable.
Tell us a bit about the art scene in Pakistan
Pakistan has a rich art history. We have international art masters to boast of: Ustad Allah Bux, Sadequain, A. R Chughtai, Bashir Mirza, Ahmed Parvez, Shakir Ali, Zubedia Agha, Anna Molka, Jameel Ahmed, Laila Shahzada, Zahoor Ul Akhlaq, Colin David, Ghulam Rasul, to name a few.
Each year our art schools are producing graduates; side-by-side extraordinary painters who may not have formal training are gaining recognition. We are a young nation, and our artists are making their name worldwide. I think Pakistani art has some exciting times ahead.
Art speaks volumes, what is the message you are trying to convey with your work?
My art is about places, it references actual locations, as seen from the mind’s eye.
I try and resist labels, categorizations, negative propaganda and preaching.
Being a young Pakistani female painter I represent a positive image of Pakistan abroad. Overseas Pakistanis write to me expressing how proud they are to have a young, independent, progressive female represent the country internationally to show another side of Pakistan.
What are your thoughts on opening up an art museum in Pakistan?
I am all for it! I have over the years been pushing for an arts museum. We really need it if we want a long-drawn, mature appreciation of our art history and to document the art being produced now.
Painting on location is quite fascinating, how do you manage to do this? Do you always carry your equipment with you?
I always paint outdoors. I start my work with making oil studies in black and white. When I paint outdoors I take my field easel, some canvases, rags, paper, paints briefcase, brushes, turpentine, linseed, and palette.
But no apron, I am a mess!
Can you tell about one of your favourite pieces and what speaks to you about this piece?
My latest painting which was the highlight of my Netherlands exhibition called ‘Breaking Dawn’ it aroused so much interest! It fascinates me most as I don’t quite understand it! I remember how a moment made me feel, and this is my response to it. After it’s over (a painting) one looks back and learns from it, but that is not the same thing as understanding it. And I think that is this painting’s individuality. It presents a possibility, a subjective reality.
What is the craziest purchase you’ve made for your space or your artwork?
There are way too many to keep track of! In the beginning one feels like they need everything! I have over the years bought several props: African wooden dolls, masks, Hokusai prints, stuffed flowers, table decoration, vases, furniture.
However with time, as you find your own distinct voice, the mind becomes increasingly singular in a sense. You become focused and with a quiet confidence you realize there is very little you need to convey an idea of a place.
Do you have any funny stories involving your artwork, maybe while you were trying to create a piece or exhibit somewhere?
Well, there was that one time when I was outdoors painting a landscape when I almost got bit by a snake! Another time when I was painting the sea and a massive wave came at me and I nearly drowned …just stuff like that… seems funny when I look back now. But not at the time!
As a curator for Unicorn gallery how do you decide what artwork to showcase?
Unicorn brings new ideas to the Pakistani art landscape and has single-handedly contributed more to Pakistani art than any other institute or organization; this has been going on for over fourteen years. They monetarily invest in the future of Pakistani art, and give them the respect, time and recognition that art deserves. Unicorn serves as a private art museum. They host retrospectives and high-quality, educational events to generate awareness. My favourites have been the Laila Shahzada and the Ghulam Rasul retrospectives, Art book fair, Dr. Akbar Naqvi book launches, video screenings, and working with artist estates.
Tell us a bit more about the gallery
The Unicorn Gallery Team has a penchant for showing international artists such as French master glass blower, Jean Claude Novaro, Sri Lankan modern master artist Senaka Senanayake, Owais Husain. They love breaking new ground!
At Unicorn, art history is paramount. The Unicorn Gallery bookstore is a fantastic place to learn about Pakistani art and the gallery has free art channels on Dailymotion and YouTube with original downloadable art documentaries and lectures.
As a successful artist with international acclaim, what message would you like to share with young, struggling artists?
Make art. Do what comes to you naturally. Do not take any advice.
What’s your favourite place to see art?
I enjoy visiting State Bank Museum with their superb Sadequain collection and the Frere Hall. Karachi Museum, Arts Council Karachi, Alhamra Art Gallery Lahore, Lahore Museum, National Gallery Islamabad, – all have striking artifacts and paintings. I visit the Karachi Museum for their Taxilla Lord Buddha sculptures, Gandharas and Indus Valley collection.
In London: Courtauld, Royal Academy, Wallace Collection, National Gallery, Tate Britain. In Paris: Museum Orsee, private smaller impressionist museums, the Louvre. In Amsterdam: Rijks museum is a must for anyone wanting to study the old masters; and Van Gogh Museum is quite stimulating.
What’s the most indispensable item in your studio?
I cannot do without my outdoor field easel; it’s a light, portable, sturdy, easy to travel with and an absolute essential! It seeps into the sand beautifully and gives the right balance needed to hold a large canvas in place.
I am not an indoor studio person. I paint plein aire. My easel meets my requirements.
Do you collection anything?
I am an avid coin collector and book reader. I take Polaroids of landscapes; pick up shells along the beach. And I am absolutely mad about collecting stationary!
What’s your first artwork you ever sold?
I cannot remember the details but I think it may have been right after I graduated from school. I painted some organic patterns, flower-like, and kept them at Unicorn to be sent for framing. Someone came in, saw the work, and made an offer. There’s been no looking back ever since.
Who’s your favourite living artist?
I enjoy seeing the paintings of Senaka Senanayake, his use of light, colours and division of compositions is a visual delight! For any serious painter, one can learn so much about painting, fine arts, the power of imagery, art for art’s sake from Senaka’s work. His work is so secure; it commands the viewer’s attention.
What international art destination you want to visit the most?
I would say Amsterdam, Wassenaar and the Hague are my next favourite destinations. There are places I have not been to such as Greece and Portugal and I would love to paint there. I have friends in both countries. Perhaps for the next series…
What under-appreciated artist, gallery or work do you think people should know about?
I think people in Pakistan know very little about their art history.
We have several pre-modernist painters whom the public know very little about, and our art schools have yet to discover them! The early works of S.H. Askari, Fayzee Rahim, Jameel Ahmed, 50s and 60s painters, should be studied in-depth.
What’s the last great book you’ve read?
“I discovered to my joy, that it is life, not death, that has no limits.” – Love in the Time of Cholera by the brilliant Gabriel Garcia Marquez