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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.
















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Soraya Sikander listed as ‘Top Pakistani Contemporary Artists Making It Big Internationally’

Top Pakistani Contemporary Artists Making It Big Internationally

By Enakshi Sharma

Pakistan generally makes it to the headlines mostly due to wrong reasons nowadays. But behind all the geo-political turmoil, it has a rich tradition of culture, arts and music that generally goes unnoticed. Its actors and musicians have been working in the entertainment industry of neighbouring India for a long time. But what is lesser known is the new breed of contemporary artists who are making waves in the international circuit.  More encouragingly, women have been at the forefront of this movement, which is no mean achieving in a highly conservative and patriarchal society. So, here is an attempt to introduce a few shining starts of the Pakistani art scene who are already well known in the western art scene and may achieve further glory in the future. They are not the only ones, but they should help you get acquainted with the scene.


Soraya Sikander: This versatile painter works on diverse mediums including ink painting, silkscreen paintings, woodblocks and oil canvases. She gained fame through her take on capitalism at the height of recession of 2008-2009. She uses her multi-cultural background as a motivation to promote tolerance and nonviolence through her art that uses natural colours and inspirations.

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INTERVIEW: HELLO!Pakistan interviews artist Soraya Sikander on her new work

SORAYA SIKANDER calls herself a fine artist trained in Western classical figurative drawing, working on a new visual language. A critically acclaimed painter, she has exhibited widely and showcased her work at major museums and galleries in London, Dubai, Dhaka, Singapore, Karachi and Lahore – her artworks are with major collectors. Soraya has spent several years training in fine arts at Beaconhouse National University (BNU), the Slade Summer School and now at the London Atelier of Representational Art (LARA), focusing on drawing and sculpture. She recently held a TEDx talk on ‘Conditioning in Art’ and has been offered honorary MFAs, artist residencies, fair exhibits and commissions. Hello! Pakistan catches up with this young painter in London to discuss her latest art project.

soraya sikander HELLO! interview page1 soraya sikander HELLO! interview page2

What is your oeuvre and where do you see yourself going? My body of work mainly comprises of tonal paintings. The use of light is immediate, direct and apparent in nearly all my artworks. There are strong shapes as well as texture in my landscapes and florals from the series ‘In, at and around’ for which I am best known. However the new work is a complete departure from the previous. It is all about returning to the principles of what constitutes a perfect drawing, that is: Shape, tone and edge. In edges you have three kinds: sharp edge, soft edge, and lost edge – apparent in works of 19th century academic trained artists. Master this, and you have mastered fine arts. That is where I am going.

Tell us why you choose to straddle two worlds to develop your artistic practice? The kind of work that I am now producing could only have been realised in a country with an atelier history; Italy, U.K and U.S have great atelier academies where you get to work on classical drawings for hours, observing a model and chasing the gesture of the pose. That is the academic reason. When I put my work out in an exhibition I travel to wherever the show is and then back. Being a professional artist brings plenty of travel into your life, it is part and parcel. A general rule that I have when working, is to take several short breaks. You come back and see your work in progress and spot something that wasn’t there before or should’ve been there. If you remain in one spot for too long, a point comes when you stop seeing tones and everything begins to look flat. To train the eye, you must allow yourself to go back and forth.

What have you studied so far in London and what brought you back to the city? The London Atelier of Representational Art (LARA) brought me back to the city. It is a rather unique and interesting art academy where you meet other professional artists and practitioners from a diverse background, work from live models who adopt a certain pose that you draw for 4 weeks building the work from straight lines, measuring and studying proportions, then making your work as close to reality as possible. It is very similar to sculpting, where first you block in a shape, then you chisel and refine. Another striking feature is the constant use of mirrors to reverse and check the drawing you are making. A black mirror is a drawing essential. In the beginning you work on a Bargue drawing – a two-dimensional realistic sketch. Next, you move on to a 3D cast in pencil and later charcoal. This is called Sight-Size. Where your subject is drawn or painted in the size that you see it from a specific distance. This drawing can take several weeks. It is common to be working on the same drawing for a few months.

What excites you most about your study at the London Atelier of Representational Art (LARA)? To be the first Pakistani artist trained in a tradition that traces back to 17th century and has been over hundreds of years passed down through studio practice from tutor to pupils. Between the 18th and 19th century this was the standard and recognised way of training painters and sculptors. Some of the world’s greatest artists were trained in this method. It has now experienced a revival. Many people who want to seriously pursue a career as an artist are turning to representational art. Without a sound training in atelier drawing, the artist will have to produce gimmicky stuff to hide their ignorance. This kind of art may be racy and loaded in shock value, however it is a matter of time before people realise the emperor has no clothes.

You are currently focusing on old masters’ style drawing. Tell us more. To work in old masters’ style, to make representational art, there are some guidelines: Stand at a distance from your subject, go back and forth, squint, use mirrors to see image in reverse, measure proportions with a stick, hold your mechanical pencil towards the end, keep it sharp, draw from your shoulder. The whole point of this approach to drawing is to train the eyes and for your hand to match on paper what you see in front of you. The end results are extremely rewarding as your work appears more lifelike, more three-dimensional, and the process is enjoyable as you control, adjust and alter your work through the several stages of development. This type of drawing has stood the test of time. Keywords: accuracy, precision.

Does this kind of opportunity only present itself in the West? While the human body has been the fulcrum of art practice throughout the history of art, to what extent can an artist go in Pakistan? In Pakistan (and in most art schools worldwide) there is life drawing, with a group of students seated or standing around a model and a tutor ‘teaching’ what he or she thinks makes a good drawing. The ultimately outcome is a mixture of that tutor’s subjectivity and students illustration. The problem with this essentially is that the tutor becomes the eyes of the student, hence creating heavy reliance. In atelier there are several tutors over the week and they encourage you to look and train you to ‘see’ and correct what looks awkward or ‘jumps out’. It is simply a way of providing feedback, hence negating the possibility of any kind of dependence on what you or the tutor thinks they see. It is a documentation of what is really there.

How do you feel while working with a live model? I enjoy the experience; however I do feel for them! It is freezing here most of the time and the minute they get a long break, they immediately run off for tea! Working with a live model is much more rewarding than working with a photo. There is an entire human being there, – it’s beautiful and interesting to watch them and look for diagonals across the pose – the gesture they adopt marks the beginning of a drawing. If you do not ‘chase the gesture’ so to speak, no amount of decoration, shading, nothing can save your drawing. The first few weeks are always the most crucial in a drawing’s development.

Why do you think it is important to turn to this subject at this stage of your art practice? Simply put, any serious painter pushes themselves to achieve more, aim higher, raise the bar, and to compete with their own selves. I think I wanted to challenge myself. It’s what I do. Also, I was beginning to get too comfortable producing work that I became ‘known’ for and not inconveniencing myself in the slightest. At any stage, whatever kind of art once produces, it is important to keep going back to the fundamentals, and then push your work forward.

Where will you be exhibiting in the near future? I am quite enjoying reeling in the success that was the ‘In, at and around’ series. I have been contacted by galleries, offered   MFAs, and artist residency projects and a public commission for a fair. I am always open to offers and opportunities. Presently I am in my studio and new work is in progress.