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Making Pakistan proud: In conversation with Wajiha Pervez

Making Pakistan proud: In conversation with interdisciplinary designer Wajiha Pervez

 Published: July 15, 2019

Wajiha Pervez is a Pakistani artist, interdisciplinary designer, materials enthusiast and traveler.PHOTO: VCUarts

Pakistan has an abundance of talent, and young Pakistanis continue to make their homeland proud internationally. One such Pakistani is Wajiha Pervez, a Pakistani artist, interdisciplinary designer, materials enthusiast and traveler.

Qatar Foundation (QF), a conglomerate of academic institutions including campuses of many international universities, houses the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Arts (VCUQ). The university hosts a high-profile event, Tasmeem Doha, which hosts renowned artists and speakers from all over the world. Up until now, the board of the event only consisted of either key faculty members from the parent campus in Richmond or top local faculty. However, this year, for the first time, Wajiha has been added to the board as a co-chair of the prestigious Tasmeem, the first entirely student-led edition of the event. She is the first Pakistani to have achieved this honour.

Born in Karachi, Wajiha received her BFA degree from the University College of Art and Design, Lahore, with a specialisation in textile design. Currently living in Doha, this 29-year-old achiever went on to acquire her MFA in Design from VCUarts Qatar in 2017.

In this exclusive interview, she talks to ET Blogs about her life, her journey, and her achievements.

Why did you opt for studying design at the university level?

Growing up, I was surrounded by family members and friends who were creative. I used to watch my grandmother’s stitching and was struck at how a piece of cloth, a few strands of thread – and skill – could create something beautiful. My mom has always been my biggest support and cheerleader. I get my energy and drive from her.

Besides, I felt it was the right time – Pakistan’s fashion and design sector was coming alive. We had our own design institutes.

Also, design suits my personality. Everything is fluid and evolving in design, which means that it’s unpredictable. As a person, I’m quite comfortable with that element of unpredictability, with allowing things to evolve in their own time.

Design is not merely about clothes and accessories; there isn’t a facet of life that is not touched by design. Even the most sophisticated technology needs an element of design to make it appealing and marketable; from forks and forklifts, to hospitals and homes, a designer’s fingerprint is on almost everything you use.

In the subcontinent, high-achieving students often choose a science stream. How did you take a different path?

There is still a degree of uncertainty in Pakistan when it comes to studying anything that does not lead to a ‘prescribed path’. And my case was no exception. It took quite a bit of persuasion and arguments with my family, to convince them of my decision.

Do you feel that attitudes in Pakistan have changed for youth and women?

As a millennial from Pakistan, I would say that things have changed a lot. The youth of Pakistan doesn’t accept answers blindly; we want to know the reasons behind a decision.

As a woman from Pakistan, I feel empowered because I have been raised by women who were independent and strong; never in my family have I seen a woman not being given an equal voice as her male counterparts.

I know that there are other women who may not be as fortunate as me. But then again, I’ve also been inspired by women who have faced their circumstances and gone on to achieve what they set out to. So I think women in Pakistan are in a far better place than their mothers and grandmothers were, and they know that.

How has the fashion and design scene in Pakistan evolved?

An appreciation of the finer elements of fashion and design has always existed in Pakistan. But it wasn’t given a voice and projected out onto a platform. We didn’t give it the sort of publicity that we do now. Compared to the fashion scenes in other countries, we’re still in our infancy. We are a regional contender, but we have yet to mature, or be elevated to a position where we are a global leader. I see this as an advantage – especially for people like me. It gives us more room to explore and establish our own styles.

When it comes to design, what do you focus on?        

My special interests are in material innovation. Now I make footwear and active wear mostly and consult companies on patents for sustainable materials and technologies. I also like to explore globally-endangered textiles through contemporary materials and techniques, so that traditional textiles continue to live on. I want to continue my research in the circular economy, sustainable fashion and ethically-produced textiles. I’m also keen to put together more conferences, events and festivals like Tasmeem.

Having co-chaired an international art and design event as a Pakistani, what does it mean to you?

Today, the experience seems surreal. I met so many incredibly talented people. Incidentally, the theme of this year’s Tasmeem was Hekayat (stories) and that was apt. The participants were a combination of rising and famous designers and artists, but they were also people who had struggled to reach where they are now; to get things done, to get their voices heard. It was inspiring to learn about what it took for each person to reach where they are now. For me, that was the biggest take-away of my experience – that I helped bring these inspiring designers to Qatar, and, in turn, inspire those in Qatar.

As a Pakistani, and as a woman, what has your experience in Qatar been like?

As a woman, what has struck me as amazing was the female leadership in Qatar and the QF. Nowhere else have I seen such remarkable female leaders as I have in QF’s Education City. I have always looked up to amazing women back in Pakistan, but in Qatar, the level of female-led leadership is something else; every big institution or organisation has a female in one of the topmost positions.

In Qatar, another factor that stands out is the multiculturalism. I’m blessed to have chosen a country that respects and values people from Pakistan. And not just to me, this country gives a voice and place to people from other countries also who call Qatar their home.

What would you tell your peer group – especially women – in Pakistan?

I would say the very first thing is to define yourself to yourself; you cannot move a step forward unless you know what your heart wants. Secondly, make sure you don’t take up anything that you don’t feel really strongly about. Then, step out. Because once you know the reason, the motivation and direction finds its way and then nothing can stop you.

God doesn’t give you a challenge if He feels that you don’t have what it takes to overcome it. You need to hold firmly on to that belief, because there will be times when that will be the only thing that stops you from giving up and going back.

Any immediate future plans that you’d like to share with us?

After Tasmeem 2019, for the first time since the biennale was staged, we are taking it out onto an international platform. The Tasmeem space will be set up as part of the upcoming London Design Festival in London Design Week. I’m in the process of putting together the exhibits and merchandise for that. After that, we plan to present a talk about it in Amman in Jordan. As for my personal circular fashion research, I am devoting more time to it now and we will see where it takes me.

(All photos: VCUarts Qatar)

Farahnaz Zahidi

A writer and editor, who has worked as a Features Editor with The Express Tribune. Her focus is human-centric feature stories. She now writes as a freelancer, and works as a media trainer and communications practitioner. She tweets as @FarahnazZahidi (twitter.com/farahnazzahidi?lang=en).

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

https://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/85335/making-pakistan-proud-in-conversation-with-interdisciplinary-designer-wajiha-pervez/?fbclid=IwAR0pw_veB6I18bwkE1CIAGT4jz-ezY36vYKm5I1fp0tdHhwogIS8f2QS8sY

Spaces and moments of leisure

http://tns.thenews.com.pk/spaces-moments-leisure/#.WPMZEsZRU1k

 

The project used a rickshaw powered projector to show cell phone videos in diverse neighbourhoods where the videos were made. Basheer was the community coordinator for the screenings at Seaview. For Basheer who makes a living by photographing tourists along the Seaview beach, being part of a video project was something that left not just fond memories but a sense of ownership about his city. These outdoor screenings were free of cost and were held in various parts of Karachi, thereby creating an archive of cell phone videos about everyday life of Karachiites.

“This project was not a political reportage. We were not trying to be native informants. This project gathered Karachiite’s spaces and moments of leisure in the city,” says Yaminay Nasir Chaudhri, the key person behind MKMC. Mera Karachi Mobile Cinema was a way of engaging with different publics, explains Chaudhri. “We wanted to change the relationship of people to media. Normally the people we met and worked with were consumers of the media, but did not get to produce it themselves. In MKMC, they had a chance to make media and if they wanted to, to represent themselves.” The approach was participatory.

The MKMC team would teach basic video making and editing techniques using cell phones. Members of the community became collaborators and a part of the creative process. They could, for example, express their choice for music or particular scenes they liked in the videos they made, and want the MKMC team to fine tune that. “We would work on it together. It was a very important aspect of the project to create a sense of ownership and agency over the images we put out in the world,” says Chaudhri.

Karachi is a melting pot of different ethnicities, languages and cultures. This series of videos, though limited in number, were aimed at being snapshots into life of Karachiites from all walks of life. They were produced in response to the question “Home: What did you do last Sunday?” A Mobile Cinema Rickshaw carried around the projector that projected these videos on walls of houses, railway bogies and buildings, added another dimension to it that is typical to life in Karachi.

Karachi is a melting pot of different ethnicities, languages and cultures. This series of videos, though limited in number, were aimed at being snapshots into life of Karachiites from all walks of life. They were produced in response to the question “Home: What did you do last Sunday?”

The project celebrated the life and times of Karachiites, and created a new use of public spaces. This was a use of art that was not a luxury for the elite – it was by the people and for the people.

The MKMC team was headed by Yaminay Chaudhri. Other team members included Cyrus Viccaji, Sadia Khatri, Mohammad Saddique Khan, Khadija Abdul Lateef, Krishna Raju and Farhad Mirza.

Areas that were covered included Ibrahim Haidery, Lyari, Cantt Station and Seaview. Karachi’s migrant communities were also focused upon. Some of them have been living in the city since decades but still do not have legal status here. The videos, simple at a glance, were conceptually layered, tapping into complex themes like identity and ownership. Both regular and irregular settlements were tapped into.

Vernacular aesthetics and tools were used in this project. The rhythm of the city was important. These videos were not made for an international audience, which helped deliver a more fluid and organic narrative. “Often when films or documentaries are made for a global audience, producers end up orientalising, objectifying and exoticising Pakistan, resorting to stereotypes about terrorism, and over simplification of people based on ethnicities,” explains Chaudhri.

“MKMC is an incredibly diverse and inclusive project. It’s so beautiful how it’s rooted deeply in Karachi and its inhabitants, building a poignant and personal archive of all the vulnerable and aspirational relationships we have with the city, its public spaces and communities,” says Abeera Kamran, a graphic designer and web developer who worked on the website of Tentative Collective. She adds that it’s so rare to find artists that are committed to such collaborative intersectional work.

The screening of videos in MKMC created an alternative narrative in public spaces. The screenings fostered new kinds of conviviality in these neighbourhoods and leftover spaces of the city. In Lyari, in one screening, some 300 people, mostly women and children, came together on an empty parking lot and street in the middle of Baghdadi. “Our gatherings never used security apparatus and we never had any problems. The feeling of community and desire to be in a public space together doing something fun was a kind of organiser in itself,” says Chaudhri.

MKMC made an effort to hire a few people from each neighbourhood they engaged with as community leaders. They offered salaries to the ones who wanted salaries and support in other ways to those who were insulted by the offer of money. The project took one year to plan and ran for three years. It involved applying for grants, crowd sourcing, personal savings and getting funding from friends.

The second phase of the project, still underway, involves the showing of previously unshared parts of MKMC, a documentation of the process, and analysing what the team learnt from it. According to Chaudhri, the MKMC team wants to look at what gets deleted, what is deemed screen worthy and what is not. As artists working with new collaborators, they also want to decipher what it was that they saw in these engagements with unlikely friends.

As often happens, lack of funds eventually became a reason why the project had to be discontinued. “We got offers to turn this project into a brand, and were offered funding from dubious sources, but we turned it down. It was important to us that the agendas of funding bodies were not reflected in the outcomes of our project. That would defeat the purpose of making a project like this with its open-ended outcomes and flexibility of programming,” says Chaudhri, adding that by the end of the project, the structure of the videos had changed dramatically based on the groups they met and their desire to make media a certain way. “The project went in all of those directions happily. With big funding, branding, and foreign agendas, none of that would have been possible.”

MKMC was a project of the “Tentative Collective” — a collective of people who share resources to create critical works of art in public places. The Tentative Collective is currently working on a project exploring some of the outcomes of modernity and development, working with literal and metaphorical notions of waste and wasted lives.

Frida Kahlo’s art: Ribbon around a bomb

Published: November 9, 2014

‘Frida with magenta muffle.’ PHOTO: NIKOLAS MURAY

‘Frida with magenta muffle.’ PHOTO: NIKOLAS MURAYThe entrance to La Casa Azul. PHOTO: FARAHNAZ ZAHIDI

“I used to think I was the strangest person in the world but then I thought there are so many people in the world, there must be someone just like me who feels bizarre and flawed in the same ways I do. I would imagine her, and imagine that she must be out there thinking of me too. Well, I hope that if you are out there and read this and know that, yes, it’s true I’m here, and I’m just as strange as you.” — Frida Kahlo

It doesn’t make sense that I relate so strongly to her. Barring the gender, we have nothing in common. She was from Hungarian-Jewish-Spanish-Mexican Indian descent; I am as Pakistani as it gets. She lived decades ago in Coyoacán, Mexico; I live in Karachi, Pakistan. She was a Communist political activist; I am not. I have no uni-brow or a muralist called Diego Rivera as my life-partner. Nor do I live in La Casa Azul (The Blue House). Yet the complex and multi-dimensional Frida Kahlo talks to me and I hear her.

‘Frida with magenta muffle.’ PHOTO: Nikolas Muray

An exhibit of one of Frida’s self-designed dresses

Frase celebre — a famous quote by Frida

An oil painting titled Marxism will give health to the sick.

Frida suffered from polio as a child, had a bus accident as a teenager that left her crippled and underwent 30 surgeries. She had multiple miscarriages and could not have a child. Chained in that crippled body was a feisty uninhibited spirit, who said “Feet, what do I need you for when I have wings to fly?” Her restrictions were very real. But within those restraints, she lived life to the fullest and asserted who she was. And this is the bond between Frida and so many women throughout the world who have no commonalities on a superficial level. But somewhere, in a parallel world, they hear each other. The chains maybe different, but for most women, they are there. And when they soar as high as they can, while tied to the ground, that’s the point where they meet Frida.

For art enthusiasts and Frida lovers, La Casa Azul is a must-do on the bucket list. Now that I was in Mexico City for a conference, how could I go back without visiting her home? Luckily, I met an American and a South African woman who were equally eager to go there too. The eclectic nature of this troika did justice to Frida, who embodied as much diversity within herself — equal parts muse, artist, writer, fashionista, lover, activist and saint. I tried speaking my broken Spanish to give directions to the taxi driver but he understood nothing. Eventually, I just ended up saying, “Frida” and he knew where to take us.

A display of creative footwear

A prosthesis from the exhibition ‘Appearances can be deceiving’

A papier-mache sculpture on display that symbolises an empty womb

La Casa Azul is snuggled away in a darling neighbourhood called Coyoacán in Mexico City. It is also known as Museo Frida Kahlo, as it was converted into a museum in 1958. Even on a weekday afternoon during lunchtime, there was a long queue of Kahlo-enthusiasts outside on the street. The one hour wait allowed us to explore the Colonia del Carmen neighbourhood. The vibrantly painted yellow, orange and blue homes, hand-painted addresses on heavy wooden doors, and imperfect but beautiful architecture — this had to be Frida’s street.

Our homes are places where bits of our souls rest in our belongings and our choices. The walls of our rooms witness our inner turmoil and the doors hear our laughter. A part of us lives in our homes even when we are not there. “Her feel is so much alive in this house” is what one of my two companions said as we entered. This is her ancestral home where she was born, where she lived part of her married life with Diego, and where she died.

The house, built around a sprawling courtyard, has cobalt-blue walls, small fountains and a lot of plantation. It is creative yet simple, and is very obviously conducive to art.

The wheelchair that helped Frida get around

Farida’s workstation

The yellow kitchen

The museum showcases most of Frida’s work. In her lifetime, she produced over 140 paintings, and 55 of these are self-portraits. Clearly in touch with herself, she had once said “I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best.” Her paintings are, thus, her biography. Some seemingly unfinished paintings show faceless children, and some almost grotesque sculptures show an empty-wombed hollow woman. Here, Frida shares her unfulfilled desire of motherhood. While many see her work as surrealist, she had vehemently called her work her reality. French writer and poet André Breton had once described Frida Kahlo’s art as a “ribbon around a bomb”. That is also a very apt description of Frida herself.

While her art equipment have a strange glamour to them as one realises that these are the paints, brushes and canvas-holders which helped her create her lasting pieces, other belongings like her wheelchair and crutches also make one sense her disabilities. No matter how much we celebrate her disability as part and parcel of the great artist, and no matter how much she fought it with bravery, it must not have been an easy life. No matter, how emblematic, original and ethnic her ensembles are, but at the end of the day her wardrobe includes corsets, leg immobilisers, prosthesis and special shoes. It must have been tough to be in Frida’s shoes.

Her choices were not run-of-the-mill either. She loved Diego for his art and his mind, and it was a difficult on-again, off-again relationship. But they were each other’s muses. While she and her terribly gifted husband were intensely in love, Diego could never pledge fidelity, though he promised her loyalty. Loyalty, as Frida once said, was more important to her than fidelity.

The Pakistani woman today is in a transitional flux. She admires Ismat Chughtai but is also solidly rooted in tradition, sometimes out of coercion and at others as an informed choice. She is complex, and learning, and evolving. She is coming of age. She is paying the prices for her choices. Yet, she is living a full life, or at least trying to. Frida Kahlo, in her own unique way, did the same. She exemplified, somehow, what mystic teachings say — that none of us is perfect, yet there is so much perfect in each of us. She once said, “I think that little by little I’ll be able to solve my problems and survive.” That is what all of us are trying to do, every day of our lives.

Farahnaz Zahidi is a senior subeditor at The Express Tribune. She tweets @FarahnazZahidi

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, November 9th, 2014.

‘Wood’ you decorate your home with the whimsical?

Owing to dependable quality of wood (mainly sheesham) of her pieces, connoisseurs of furniture are willing to pay even a slightly steep price for them. PHOTOS: JAMAL ASHIQAIN

KARACHI: Yaar ko hum ne jaa bajaa dekhaKabhi zaahir kabhi chupa dekha (I saw my Beloved everywhere, Sometimes apparent and sometimes hidden). Unassuming at first glance, there is a rectangular wooden table with immaculate finish. But upon closer inspection and you see the preceding couplet written on both its sides in delicate brass inlay work. “This is called Khatt. I name each of my pieces,” says architect-turned furniture designer Zahra Ebrahim. Each of her 100 plus pieces of furniture on display are decorated with subtle detail.

With a multitude of furniture shops in Karachi, Ebrahim, seven years into the business, is still operating from home and her workshop, with one to two exhibitions in a year. And to highlight the contributions of local artisans, Ebrahim and her partner Rubain Ali Amir make sure they hand a paper to each potential client titled ‘Celebrating our artisans’.

Owing to dependable quality of wood (mainly sheesham) of her pieces, connoisseurs of furniture are willing to pay even a slightly steep price for them. PHOTOS: JAMAL ASHIQAIN

It states the various techniques and forms of craft they use including wood inlay, brass inlay, and rilli qulits (quilts) from Sindh, which Ebrahim utilises as upholstery. “The rilli is whimsical in nature,” its says. When mentioning the blue Hala pottery, she makes a special mention of Jaan Soomro from Hala and other artisans like him.

The collection comprises chairs and sofas upholstered with kilms, rillis from Sindh, and Kashmiri and Swati embroidery. It also offers a variety of lamps, trolleys, wall hangings, almirahs, levitating corners and shelves, sofas and tables.

Owing to perfection in the finish and dependable quality of wood (mainly sheesham) of her pieces, connoisseurs of furniture are willing to pay even a slightly steep price for them. But what rivets their attention is the thematic and cultural influences in her work.

Owing to dependable quality of wood (mainly sheesham) of her pieces, connoisseurs of furniture are willing to pay even a slightly steep price for them. PHOTOS: JAMAL ASHIQAIN

With names such as Aztecs (Mexico), Khul Ja Sim Sim (Middle East), Dancing Gopis (India), Alhambra (Spain) and Tutankhamun (Egypt), her furniture pieces are analogous with travelogues.

A resident of Karachi, Ebrahim celebrates the sights and sounds of the metropolis through her work, for instance, a thematic set of trays with black crows, bougainvilleas and landmarks, which represent the city.

Seeing Persian and Arabic poetry and phrases carved on some of the pieces, one wonders how her clients respond to the presence of these inscriptions in a land where these languages, especially the latter, is venerated. “I have never had a problem because I make sure I use only vernacular phrases on my pieces and nothing religious,” she explains. The only place where she may make religious references is in wall hangings and lamps. “Usually, clients do not want anything like that on tables.”

Owing to dependable quality of wood (mainly sheesham) of her pieces, connoisseurs of furniture are willing to pay even a slightly steep price for them. PHOTOS: JAMAL ASHIQAIN

Also mentioned are woodcut or xylography and geometrical designs. When it comes to calligraphy, Ebrahim prefers the Kufic script. “The low vertical profile and horizontal variations in it are beautiful. I enjoy the vagueness in Kufic script, where the boundary between word and design disappears,” she says.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 5th, 2014.