Drawing Attention


Nahid Raza is a fighter who refuses to give up, the relict that survives despite a hostile milieu. Warring against lifes injustices and adversities, she emerges a victor. Despite lifes ups and downs, Nahid has not lost her sensitivity or her sense of humour. In a society hostile to divorced women, she has successfully raised two children and taken her artistic career in a high trajectory. As a painter, she has carved her own niche in indelible strokes. She has relied solely or her talent and her ability to harness her creativity; this has earned her the loyalty of her patrons and clients.

Nahid Raza opened her own art school because, “I have this great desire to impart whatever art knowledge I have, to teach through my own experiences.

“It is essential for an artist to undergo the gruelling and backbreaking stages of a formal training. The history and the vocabulary of art, influences and techniques of painting, and sketching a keen knowledge of literature, culture, philosophy, politics, are the basics of art education.

“A painting should talk. An artist should be able to create his/her own ism. Even if one chooses abstract art, unless the composition has an intense philosophy, it will only be a textured surface with no integration of mind and talent.” Nahid herself has been through the mill of intensive art training at the Karachi School of Art and in 1985 at the Wayne State University, Michigan. “Creativity is not something that God has poured into you and you pour back onto the canvas, it is the sum total of talent, experience, hardship and practice.”

With her uncle Ali Immam for a teacher, she not only survived his censure and critique but learnt from them as well, “I am eternally grateful to Ali Imam uncle for first persuading my conservative parents to let me pursue a fine art education and, secondly, for teaching me in a way that till today inspires me to think. While appreciating my work, hed add: so and so is better than you. This spurred me to do better. I am still striving to do better; his voice is a reminder that there is room for improvement.”

This was evident even to me, while watching her paint for her latest exhibition. Each time I saw a new piece, it definitely had an edge over the previous ones.

“Artists need to develop their work within their thematic values, a powerful perception; researched content and clear concepts should dominate.”

Which brings us to her subject – women. Why this obsession, why not move onto other matters? “Vajood-zan sey hai tasveer~e-kainaat mein rang”. I have been painting women since the 1970s. I am not a feminist, but the plight of women in this country has affected me much, I have seen too many women around me, family and friends, suffer endlessly and endure silently. I want to depict each experience and each effect. This is my way of drawing attention to the incessant crucifixion of women. Secondly, an artist must have a signature so that the work is recognisable and doesnt need a glance at the name in the corner. And thirdly, it is not easy to work on the same subject for a long period; one has to think of different ways to say the same thing. Even though suffering is similar, reactions are individualistic, and I still have enough in my experience bank to draw from for the next 20 years. I can explain each one of my paintings, the elements maybe the same but their juxtaposition is different. lts very much like a classical rag a rendition; the bol are the same yet the classical singer can repeat them for hours and not once is it a repetition, its just the slightest nuance that sets them apart.”

These days Nahid is busy with her exhibition at the Chawkandi Art Gallery. She first approached Ali Imam, but he said his gallery was booked for the whole of December and then he would be away in the U.S.

Her main topic even today remains women, yet there is a visible change of mood. The series have progressed from the black, white and greys to oranges, reds, electric blues and greens. The strong influences of strife, pain and helplessness are still there but added to them are hope, contentment and endeavour. Yet the elements of jubilation, happiness and success still evade the compositions. There are a few new elements in Nahids recent work, windows, doors and even the addition of the male form. Explaining these she says, “I see a woman as a complete whole. She is both panels of the door, she works both outside and inside the house, she gets no concessions, she battles against discrimination at her workplace, only to come home to pander to the needs of her husband and children. The male form is a formidable shadow that always looms over her existence.”

The format is in the style of miniatures, a new avenue for her, who she says is inspired by her, much respected senior, Jamil Naqsh. “I have great regard for Jamil; he has always been very encouraging and always given an honest and constructive critique of my work. He is the only senior artist who buys the work of junior painters for his collection.” Nahid has done more than 150 small paintings for her Chawkandi exhibition. The form maybe oft repeated, but it includes her own integrated expressions and is an extension of her lifes experiences.

Despite her busy schedule, Nahid is ever ready with a sympathetic shoulder and a patient ear for friends and family. There are times when she is sitting at her easel rapt in creativity, and at the same time comforting a troubled tearful friend, “my friends are few, we all share a mutual honesty and trust, I will always be there for them, but there have been some not so honest friends too. This has hurt me tremendously. One couple, whom I have no qualms in naming, the Ansaris, helped me shift residence and offered safe-keeping of my personal collection (mine and those of other artists that I had bought), more than 30 precious paintings. Years have passed and they are still in their possession. On my asking, he was almost abusive and said that he only had 13 paintings of mine. Another friend had me paint a 10 ft. mural, its been over six months and still no payment.”

Nahid has very unpleasant memories of a workshop she attended in France in July 1996, with other artists including Quddus Mirza, Meher Afroze and Shahbaz. “We were sent by a French organisation in Pakistan and we were grateful to them, but what transpired was no less than a nightmare. We were told that the seven-day workshop was to be in Toulouse, instead we were flung in an open forest area with very bare basic facilities, the toilets were up on a hill and that too not sufficiently private, there was no provision for Muslim food and we were forbidden to cook our own. Poor Meher survived on bread alone. “We braved it but in the end had to leave four days earlier. But we managed to do work, which fetched the organisers almost 780,000 francs. The organisers have misplaced 15 paintings that we took with us from Pakistan as exhibits to be returned. We are still running from pillar to post to locate them. The latest news is that they have been delivered to the Pakistan embassy in Paris.”

She also has a grievance with gallery owners, “I am a humane and charitable person, I am always more than willing to donate my work for a worthy cause, as I have among others, to The Kidney Centre, The Child Aid Foundation, Lady Duffer in Hospital. What I object to are people who demand work on specific topics. Artists cannot paint on order. I do not make birds – why ask me to do something with birds.”

On the subject of art, preservation, commercialism and the parameters of an artist, Nahid is very vociferous: “a true artist will never compromise his/her freedom; because he/she knows that this is the only way to develop.”

She feels that the reason her two marriages failed is that both men in one way or another tried to subjugate her artistic liberty. To her, not being able to paint unrestricted is tantamount to death. “Some very good artists have fallen prey to hypocrisy, they have lost their simplicity and honesty, and they will do anything to sell a painting. This has resulted in the name being patronised, not the work. Some artists are mere copyists; I have seen my work being copied.

“The state must support art, there should be art colleges and universities, art libraries, writings on art and artists must be encouraged, there must be many more art museums to house and preserve the works of masters like Shakir Ali, Ahmad Parvez, Chugtai, Sadeqain, Fayzee Rehamen, and others. How else will future generations know of our art history and culture? We must educate our people to look upon art not only as an investment but as the poet says a thing of beauty is a joy forever, it will never pass into nothingness.”