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August 23, 2018

Painting Beyond The Lines: Komail Aijazuddin

Text by Huzan Tata

In the fourth and final part of our series spotlighting the works of Pakistani artists, Komail Aijazuddin talks about traversing the themes of religious art and trying to expand its confines

Komail Aijazuddin

My greatest challenge was probably working up the courage to pursue art full-time. My advice is to not have a backup plan, because if you do, you’ll use it,” says this NYC and Lahore-based visual artist and writer, whose practice primarily focuses on the portrayal of religious art. Komail Aijazuddin — who has degrees in art and art history from the prestigious New York University, and an MFA from Pratt Institute in New York — has showcased his creations around the globe from Tel Aviv to Brooklyn, and is a master of gold-leaf work that can be seen in several of his canvases. An artist who’s dabbled in painting, wax work, drawing and installations, he can be found “writing, reading, eating, or conspiring to go on vacation so that I can do all three on a beach” when he’s not toiling away in the studio.

Creative Beginnings
“I grew up in a home that valued art. Like most kids, I loved to draw but unlike most, I never stopped. I studied art and art history all through school and university, but I think I officially decided to go into an MFA programme to become a professional artist at 22. I realised that if I had to do something for eight hours a day, it might as well be something I truly loved doing. I discovered fairly quickly in life that I am not made for desk jobs.”

Traversing Themes
“My work combines vocabulary of religious art from different traditions in an effort to understand modern concepts of identity and faith. I’m particularly interested in what people consider sacred and why. My practice is cross-disciplinary, and includes painting, drawing, installation and sculpture. I was trained in classical figure drawing, and figures are still a large part of my art. I’m interested in the idea of blasphemy, not simply in religion, but also in how common ideas and identities can take on the reverence of religious tenets.”

Portraying Pakistan
“My work began by exploring the iconography of Shia Islam, and that was a direct result of how I was raised in my country, but I don’t believe fine art needs to be representative of anything beyond the individual who made it. Your work may come from something intimately particular to you but the hope is that whatever you create will resonate with people because of their own experiences.”

Shared Histories
“I’d say the art of a period is very important in the telling of its history, mainly because our history (and for that matter our art history) is the same one before Partition. I am often reminded of Amrita Sher-Gil’s work which made a big impact on me as a child, both because she was a figurative painter but also because she was from Lahore.”

The Issues Of Art
“Self-censorship can be an issue for any artist, regardless of where they come from. I don’t think I have had any major restrictions of censorship placed on my work. That said, I think that South Asia has a strong sense of what’s considered appropriate (particularly with things like nationalist and religious identities) and I feel that sometimes interesting work can come from playing within the limits of that framework and testing how far they can be expanded.”

Pakistani Art In A Global Sphere
“It’s doing extremely well, I think. There are dozens of fantastic, talented people doing amazing things at home and abroad and it’s a global force. But what I am most proud of is that so much of it is so thoughtful, innovative and universal.”

Art Around Town
“I work in Lahore which is a historical, beautiful city. It’s home to the Lahore Museum, the Lahore Fort, Jahangir and Noor Jehan’s tombs, The Walled City, Shalimar Gardens, the Shakir Ali Museum and more. To say nothing of the food, which itself offers a transformative experience.”

On The Wall At Home
“Strangely, I don’t have many pieces up on my walls, probably because I work with images all day and sometimes it’s a relief to stare at a blank space. But I do love collecting drawings, particularly sketches or preparatory studies.”

Future Forward
“I’ve just finished a solo show and a public sculpture in Lahore, where I built a large cube of gold leaf, so I’m taking some time off to work on some writing projects in New York. I intend to get back to the studio after August to work on my next few exhibitions, hopefully with a holiday tan.”

Read Part 1 on Salman Toor here, Part 2 on Muhammad Zeeshan here and Part 3 on Saqiba Suleman here

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