February 20, 2012

At war with this thing called reality

Artist Nadia Hussain deconstructs everything for pleasure or understanding

© Nadia Hussain

Art, says the artist Nadia Hussain, makes the world more beautiful and bearable -- and somehow more significant. During an interview, Nadia told me that art is also what makes humanity more civilised. "It represents the need to express thoughts and feelings so that they last. And in some ways, art records history. It gives us a visual representation of the culture of a particular time and space," she said.

However, she continued, "you could say that art is another way of seeing the world as well. It shows us alternate ways of seeing. We have a need to deconstruct the human condition to understand it and perhaps to enhance the experience of existence. And I feel art allows us to achieve this at some level. Also, it has an intrinsic value that gives us pleasure."

She said an artist is not just a being who is condemned to please with beauty, "though it might seem that way sometimes. An artist is a person who questions 'reality' and other such prevalent notions of existence, and represents them in many ways. An artist is actively involved in living with such principles and deconstructing everything for pleasure or understanding." She believes that in some ways, an artist is at war with what is called 'reality' -- "not as a form of rebellion, but more as a way of life."

What makes Nadia an artist is that she has given herself the licence to believe that she is. "My practice is multidimensional. I make artwork, and I guide others to do the same and perhaps more. I believe I have a vision that allows this practice to be manifested in many ways." She makes representations of, what she believes to be, some aspects of the human condition. That makes her work 'art'. She also motivates people to develop a practice that is meaningful and to question the existing notions. That makes her life's work 'art' as well. "I believe art is not limited to just one aspect of art practice. It includes efforts to question the way things are: Should art be limited to passive representation? Is art just a representation of 'beauty'? Should art be 'beautiful' and simply represent things as they are? Shouldn't art be functional?"

She is currently involved in a personal project that involves deconstruction of inspiration. "I have an anonymous viewer -- just one -- whom I show my drawings. This person's response helps me create more drawings. In other words, I have allowed this viewer to be my muse as well as my audience. The work created depends entirely on my interaction with this person. It seemed like a novel idea when it occurred to me. I have yet to decide what to do with this work." For now, she is quite content with the process. Her other project involves her teaching, which is "a very important aspect of my practice. I believe in functionality within the social structure. As an artist, I can aid others to achieve a clearer understanding of their practice. This process satisfies me and inspires me to continue doing what I do."

Her favourite medium, which she says is also the most important, is human beings, without whom she'd be "quite lost." The human condition inspires her artwork. She is also "utterly grateful to other artists for showing me different ways of looking at the world." Her work as well as others' helps her learn something about herself. "Complete isolation from visual experience would be very uninspiring." Talking about her process of producing an artwork, she said, "A sliver of an idea leads to the manifestation of it in many forms. My practice is heavily dependent on drawing. I draw what I accumulate inside my head. I also talk about what I am thinking with other artists and people who do other things. This helps me develop as a human being and as an artist."

Nadia's family is very encouraging. "I have yet to disappoint them with my work. I feel they believe in what I do and how I live my life. My friends enjoy my work and my practice." To her, criticism is a useful tool. "It teaches you how to perceive your own work. It is of great importance. Getting other views is necessary to understand what you are doing. It is also important for learning." She said it is important that people either feel something or understand something from whatever she does. "Either one is of equal value." She also said since she is of this world, she produces art for herself and others. "There is a sense of personal enjoyment, but I do care if other people feel the same. I feel that if I could move even one person in some way, then everything I do would have more meaning and substance."

According to her, introspection could sometimes lead to anti-social behaviour, and she doesn't like that aspect of her practice, as introversion could be very unpleasant. When asked what her art gives her back, she said, "A reason for my existence and some pleasure. A life without pleasure would be unbearably dull." Her work centres on human beings and the human body. She believes that passion plays a huge role in producing art. "Without it, I wouldn't move. Romantic as it might sound, if I wasn't passionate about doing things, I wouldn't be motivated to do them at all. Passion not only motivates, but it makes you do things better and with feeling." As for travelling, "it gives you tolerance and more ways to look at the world. It also gives you new experiences, and is indeed very important."

Besides an artist, she is an art educator. She doesn't think she could be just one thing. Her art practice includes both. She is an Assistant Professor of Fine Arts at the National College of Arts in Rawalpindi. When asked about her favourite artwork by herself, she said, "My drawings, but those compete with my most favourite work: my students." She admires the artist Tracey Emin these days. Among the deceased, her favourites are Andy Warhol and Egon Schiele. If she could receive training from a deceased artist, she would choose Andy Warhol.

When asked if art could be taught to anyone, she said, "Ways of seeing can be taught. The artist must see before he or she makes anything." She said the most important thing that a potential artist should make sure he or she never forgets is "to be honest with yourself always. Honesty makes you fearless." She doesn't think art is taboo in the Pakistani society. "Look around you, it's everywhere in so many forms." She said art is more popular now than it ever was. "Art schools are full of young people learning this profession."

When asked if everyone could understand or appreciate art, she said, "Everyone has the capacity of understanding anything, but in their own way. One cannot force people to understand things the way one wants. If one can communicate well, then people understand many things beyond what one intends. That makes the whole process more meaningful." Talking about perfect artwork, Nadia said, "I have seen artwork that moved me to tears. I have experienced art practice that moved me to reconsider everything I believed in. Isn't that perfection?"

First published in Pakistan Today

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