IOPWE Interviews artist Soraya Sikander


Soraya Sikander ‘Listed as artist to watch’ leading South Asian painters 2016

SORAYA SIKANDER is one of Pakistan’s leading artists. Listed as ‘Artist to watch’ she paints landscapes and cities. The artist is making it big internationally with over sixteen non-stop sell-out exhibitions at some of today’s most prestigious venues! Soraya has been interviewed by The Khaleej Times, The Gulf News, Gulf Today, HELLO! and major publications. She trained in Fine Arts from Beaconhouse National University Lahore, Slade Summer, The London Atelier of Representational Art. Soraya will be the first Pakistani artist to be exhibiting at The Galerie Patries Van Dorst in Netherlands this year.





























































1. Pakistan Art industry has experienced exponential growth over the last decade or so. What in your opinion is the rough no of art galleries in Pakistan and what do you think is the $ size of the art industry (not including the fashion industry)….i am making a business case for the art industry of Pakistan.

SS: There are a number of art galleries in Pakistan, predominantly in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad, as well as art colleges and museums. They present some of the most exciting exhibitions of international standards. I may not know the exact net worth of the Pakistani art industry, it is constantly developing, but worldwide the art industry is huge and appraised at astronomical figures. However it is still modest when compared with for instance, the arms industry, which makes a substantial amount, and does not give anything positive to society

Soraya Sikander ‘Contemporary artists Making It Big’

2. What were the main art movements in Pakistan…..out of them which ones were linked to pre independence era…a little bit about each of them

SS: During the British Raj, academic realism was furthered by the English and sub-continental artists were trained in this tradition of realistic painting; first copying European masterpieces then encouraged to explored sub-continental history and mythology i.e. Raja Ravi Varma – and that era of oriental painters such S H Askari, Fayzee Rahim etc. Pre-partition, Ustad Allah Bux dominated  the art scape with his stunning mythological Lord Krishna paintings and after partition he switched to more Punjab-based folklore, Heer Ranjha, Sassi Panu, Sohni Mahiwal, Landscape scenes etc. Meanwhile Chughtai sahab had studied Japanese art closely and was also exploring tradition and folklore in his own stylized/illustrative manner. Sadequain – one of the most original artists to emerge from Asia, explored calligraphy, cactus forms and figurines – merging these – so a figure would emerge from an alphabet and vice versa. Sadequain’s line drawings are unparalleled.

Meanwhile Begum Zubeida Agha, Shakir Ali, Ahmed Parvez, Bashir Mirza, Zahoor Ul Akhlaq were all contributing significantly to the development of Modern Art in Pakistan. Pakistani art during the 60s, 70s, and 80s was immensely exciting and experimental – at par with the international art world, and contributing immensely to the development of modern art history.

3. What is the most recent art movement in the country….

SS: I think post-modernism, it’s been free style. The way we live, contemporary lifestyle, there is no uniformed art movement but instead several different styles and diversity. Art universities do not try and teach artists but instead encourage them to explore their own vision further. It is interesting to see that while some artists in Pakistan have gone conceptual, in Europe, they almost seem done with it and are turning to formal training. Ateliers have made a comeback. An Atelier (Pronounced: atel–yay) means studio school, has been for centuries the standard method for training serious fine artists. The atelier system is a highly-structured and systematic curriculum with rigorous representational art education which emerged in the 17th century. Atelier training is intense and all the great art history masters developed their skills at ateliers, drawing realistic drawings based on studies of models, and practicing light and shade for years before moving on to painting.

4. Pakistan is a very colorful society…I mean look at the clothes women wear, our weddings are full of songs and dances…is it reflected in our art….

SS: Indeed, very much so! Pakistani art is very diverse with different practitioners and different approaches. But I am pleased to say that it is going very strong and internationally Pakistani art is celebrated worldwide, and our artists have had significant achievement overseas showing at major museums, art fairs etc, and I think our diversity may indeed be our greatest strength.  

5. Is Pakistani art under represented on the world art scene…what is your opinion…

SS: Individual Pakistani artists have made their names abroad.

There are many examples of this. I am an example of this.

The representation and opportunities that Pakistani artists find overseas should exist in our country.

I think in Pakistan, we do not have as much government support as other countries. This may limit the development of the documentation of our history. Our museums lack funds and we do not have enough museums.  This is a huge challenge we face.

Soraya Sikander 'Contemporary artists Making It Big'

6. Tell us about your own work….how has your style evolved…

SS: My initial work was based on the study and development of organic forms, patterns. I studied the geometrical structure of flowers and painted these on larger and smaller canvases. My ink drawings were studies of these forms and enjoyed much popularity. During 2011-2012 I explored the Karachi coast, painting on location, seascape paintings. Karachi’s minimal gray skyline is a fascinating study in light and shade with hundreds of tones of gray – and I enjoy Punjab’s stunning green landscapes. Having closely observed my surroundings with numerous sketches and plein-aire (outdoor) paintings, I began to interpret my environment and from this a new unique style emerged, for which I have become known.

Calligraphy landscapes are studies of landscape; they represent a place, referencing actual locations in Pakistan, with my own personal subjectivity, as seen through the mind’s eye.

7. Are most Pakistani artists young and dynamic as you….I mean do we have enough of young Sadequains to carry on our art tradition

SS: Thank you! We have some of the world’s best artists in Pakistan right now. History is being made and some of the world’s most engaging, innovative and exciting art is being produced by Pakistani artists, locally as well as from the diaspora. Coming years are going to be very experimental and I have a feeling history will be kind to us.

Soraya Sikander ‘Pakistani artists Making It Big Internationally’

8. Do we need an art revolution?

SS: I think we may already be in the middle of one! Stay tuned, exciting work coming up…

9. Is art in Pakistan a commodity of the rich….how can we make it available for the man on streets..

SS: I hear this a lot! Pakistani art is most valued and treated well by art collectors. Since we do not have many public or private art museums and almost no government support, only a segment of society (our art buyers/private individuals and galleries) have supported Pakistani art, strengthening it to the position where it is now.

To make art available for the man on the streets we need something along the lines of an active National Gallery with a committed staff and a dedicated art collection – uninfluenced by bureaucratic red tape.

This will not only create awareness but lead to a more mature, sustained interest in the arts.

The government should start by initiating such projects in our major cities then moving on to the smaller ones. It’s the only way to make our art more accessible to all, and to create more opportunities for individuals in the fine arts sector. 

Soraya Sikander ‘Listed as artist to watch’ leading South Asian painters 2016

10. Do you think art can heal our nation….

SS: Art has the ability to influence and to shape. Through wars, artists have played major roles, acting either as the voice of conscience or propagandists! The position an artist adopts with regards to their views, should they choose to engage in socio-political narratives (or if their concerns are purely visual), remains an artist’s prerogative – but they do hold immense power and have the ability to change minds, leave an imprint on the human psyche or awaken our collective conscience.
















Published by unicorngallery

Leading art gallery of Pakistan, Unicorn Gallery was Founded by art critic Seemah Niaz. Unicorn specialises in the history of Pakistani and Indian painting and has presented works by some of the most distinguished South Asian painters including Ustad Allahbux, Abdur Rahman Chughtai, Ahmed Parvez, Bashir Mirza, Colin David, F N Souza, Gulgee, Jehangir Sabavala, Krishen Khanna, M F Husain, Murtaza Bashir, S H Raza, Shakir Ali and Vasudeo S. Gaitonde. Unicorn has a high reputation for the quality of its exhibitions, Annual Art Book Fair exclusive to Unicorn, art scholar talks and documentary screenings. Unicorn is also active in the preservation of the history of regional painting by way of a prolific production of art monographs and books. Unicorn Gallery has hosted retrospectives of major masters including: Sadequain’s Rubbiyats, Jameel Ahmed A Forgotten Master, Ghulam Rasul - Pakistan’s most influential landscape painter and most recently Laila Shahzada a life - The legacy of a pioneer of modern painting in Pakistan. Unicorn Gallery was Founded by Seemah Niaz. Unicorn Gallery specializes in Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art and has a high reputation for the quality of its exhibitions, annual art book fairs, lectures, documentary screenings, launches, seminars, internships and other opportunities. Unicorn Gallery holds numerous thought-provoking exhibitions in collaboration with curators, art galleries, museums, institutes and organizations, and sources to auction houses. We encourage scholarly research and exploration of art as seen from its historical, cultural, and social contexts with art critics and historians. The gallery produces its own exhibitions including traveling shows, introduces new art publications and hosts retrospectives of major painters as well as represents emerging artists, who experiment in a wide-range of media, display technical skill, diversity in portfolio and are innovative in approach. Unicorn Gallery’s exhibitions have encompassed all the visual arts including: painting, drawing, sculpture, printmaking, serigraphs, photography, architecture, film, video and performance. SEEMAH NIAZ was educated at St.George’s School in London, England and Lahore, Pakistan. She is a M.A previous in English Language and Literature from Punjab University, and B.A. in French and English Literature from Kinnaird College. She has been a freelance journalist and has contributed articles to Herald, Newsline, Dawn, Star etc. She has curated numerous exhibitions on South Asian Art in Dubai, New Delhi, Singapore and London and is the Founder of Unicorn Gallery, Karachi, and Unicorn Space, Dubai. She is widely traveled and has taught at The Lyceum School, St. Patrick’s, Karachi, Westminster College and David Game. Seemah is actively involved in social work, promoting literacy and child health in Pakistan. She is the author of the ‘Mona Naqsh’ biography. Niaz has lectured on Pakistani Art at the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland in London.