By NOAH BECKER April, 2021
I spoke to Aiza Ahmed, a New York-based, Pakistani contemporary artist who works primarily in painting and drawing. Her practice revolves around themes of Pakistani identity and culture, both real and imaginary.
Noah Becker: These drawings really caught my attention when I was looking at your work - and I love the line quality. And I recognize these as being really genuine works of art. What are your thoughts on the drawings that you've been making?
Aiza Ahmed: So for me, these drawings are kind of like an escape. I'm venturing into the unknown. I'm creating these worlds that have elements of the real as well as the imaginary, the fantasy - that's where I see them being rooted. Creating these environments that are with multiple characters, figures, settings, objects. And some, the gender begins to blur a little bit. And wandering into this dome that overlaps the two, you'll see recurring themes and motifs, for example frames, ornamentation, birds, extravagance, foliage, and similar things. And each drawing is done pretty quickly, in one sitting as I'm looking at it as one page in a book. Each drawing is a story and the narrative starts to emerge after I create it. I'm not exactly thinking about a specific thing at first.
Becker: What is the setting?
Ahmed: The setting just starts to appear. In terms of the process, I just start by contouring blindly. I'm thinking about an image in my head or have something in front of me and I'm just letting my hand flow naturally and just letting these marks come to life. And then I look at it and it's very scattered, very fragmented. Things just to start to kind of come together - and then later I start to think of a story. Like here where I drew this man, he kind of looks scary - you have these legs. In South Asia for example, when you're growing up, perhaps going out to parties isn't as encouraged. So I think about cultural context as well as the setting or figures.
Becker: And who are the people?
Ahmed: In terms of the people present, it could really be anyone. After drawing No Afterparty, I thought perhaps it could be a father who is waiting for his daughter to come home from a party or something. And it's getting late. There is a suggestion of a frame as well you see in the top left-hand corner of the page but you can't see the face. In a way I'm letting the viewer come up with who it could be - not fully revealing the figure. This next one is titled Dress Up (I miss her) because, going back to when these were created, the whole world was in quarantine and not having that opportunity to really dress up as one would and just stayed locked up at home. I do gravitate to the idea of extravagance when crafting these scenes but unable to pinpoint exactly what I'm thinking. It's these general ideas and motifs that keep appearing in my work.
Becker: This one is like a garden.
Yes, this is a garden. I was watching my father sitting in the garden, he seemed to be in deep thought, contemplating life. So I observed him and then tried to piece together things after. You'll notice a figure, staring directly back at my father. This is because it looked as if he was having a conversation with his inner-self. I titled it Solitude.
Becker: What do you call this one?
Ahmed: Canvas Conversations.
Becker: And why do you call it Canvas Conversations?
Ahmed: It's like when you're in a studio, you're an artist, you're sitting by yourself and you're lonely. And then you start speaking to yourself. My work is based in figuration a lot. So it's almost as if I'm having a conversation with the people I'm creating. And I'm just letting my mind wander.
Becker: This is a teapot you added to a drawing?
Ahmed: Yes, this is the teapot. This was a teapot that was lying around in my dining room in Dubai. And I was just very drawn to it because of its intricacy and detail. Then I started thinking about fairy tale and fantasy, whimsy and just let my mind go crazy and just come up with maybe a kind of a dinner scene, but then you have this goblin-like figure that's at the feet of this woman, queen-like character. It's really kind of what you make of it.
Becker: Give me your thoughts on pattern because you have a lot of kind of patterns and floral motifs.
Ahmed: Floral, pattern, ornamentation, etc. means a lot. I think that has a lot to do with me being from Pakistan originally. The textile industry, intricate designs, traditional techniques such as block printing...these are just a few aspects that come to mind when I begin to incorporate pattern in my drawings or paintings. I think that it's just subconsciously in me and it comes out in my work. Attention to detail is really important for me. I love the line quality you can achieve with very fine detail pens. I hope to master that duality of looseness and gesture in my mark making. WM
Noah Becker is an artist and the publisher and founding editor of Whitehot Magazine. He shows his paintings internationally at museums and galleries. Becker also plays jazz saxophone. Becker's writing has appeared in The Guardian, VICE, Garage, Art in America, Interview Magazine, Canadian Art and the Huffington Post. He has written texts for major artist monographs published by Rizzoli and Hatje Cantz. Becker directed the New York art documentary New York is Now (2010). Becker's new album of original music "Mode For Noah" was released in 2023.
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