Madyha Leghari is a graduate from the prestigious National College of Arts, Lahore. She has been actively involved in the arts as an art critic, an educator and a practicing artist. She has displayed at numerous renowned galleries including Taseer Art Gallery, Al Hamra Complex, Saeed Akhtar Studio, Zahur Ul Akhlaq Gallery (Lahore) and most recently Canvas Gallery, Karachi. Her name has been connected to prominent organizations such as Lahore Biennale Foundation (LBF) and Murree Museum Residency. She is currently a visiting lecturer at SVAD, Beaconhouse National University as well as the National College of Arts. She lives and works in Lahore.
Madyha talks to The Missing Slate’s Shameen Arshad about her work.
Tell us a little about your practice.
My practice is not armed with an overarching or unchanging purpose. It is mostly a discursive examination of a sense of self, and the simultaneous limits of it. I am interested in the idea of the body as insular, or containing the limits of experience, and yet our necessary dependence upon notions of an “other”. Most of my work thus appears to be a monologue situated in an apparent state of silence that is both comforting and threatening. Poised at the precarious edge of imminent oblivion, my works attempt to extend the representational and communicative aspects of a “pregnant” pause, especially for a gendered protagonist. Similarly, while engaged with the idea of an “other”, I am concerned with an omnipresent gaze which throws an identity or existence into relief. This gaze may belong to something extrinsic, but, with my works, I propose that it is impossible to not revert an eye onto oneself. We observe ourselves observing. I mostly work with oils and photographs.
Did you always want to be an artist? What inspired you to pursue this line of work?
Actually, it happened quite by chance. I wanted to go for a BFA in Creative Writing, but due to a curious twist of circumstances, I could not join the program that I was admitted to at the last minute. The National College of Arts was the only institution still accepting applications that late into the academic year. I really felt like one can cultivate a taste for anything be it neuroscience, Buddhism or art. I still find boredom itself immensely pleasurable, although in retrospect, I am glad that I did not choose the former two.
Every artist has their own ritual before the conception of a piece. Could you tell us a little about your creative process?
My creative process is not standardised. I keep a record of life and other impossible plans in a journal which sometimes boils over into work. Apart from that the only common ritual that I could pin down would be to carve out dedicated time and space for my practice, something that is always a challenge.
Do you feel that the National College of Arts was the perfect fit for you? In what ways do you think it influenced your creativity?
I think most graduates from the National College of Arts have a love/hate relationship with the institution. I felt lucky in many ways including receiving mentorship from brilliant artists; being able to interact with peers from diverse cultural and socio-economic backgrounds; and the sheer discomfort of studying something quite removed from my comfort zone. To a student, NCA also offers a large degree of independence to determine the direction of one’s instruction, but it’s offered informally and often in disguise. So, figuring out the loopholes of the system and working within those folds was a lesson in itself. However, there still was a system in place which (like most other public institutions) was sometimes archaic and frustratingly inert. In any case, I wouldn’t exchange the experience for another.
You have contributed to the art scene in several ways, whether as a practicing artist, an educator or even an art critic. Which role is most gratifying?
In my mind, my actions are not so compartmentalized. While playing one role at the surface, I am simultaneously attuned to another. Writing about other artists has enabled me to read my own practice with a degree of objectivity, and has given me the vocabulary through which I can explain myself. Teaching has been a pleasantly surprising experience because I hadn’t anticipated the extent to which it is a two-way process. I think one’s experience of the world is complicated, and I look at all of it as potentially a source, of which I am the sifter.
What according to you is your biggest achievement so far?
As a practitioner, so far it has been an achievement and test to reserve the right to contradict myself.
What is the one thing that bothers you about this field?
Being based in Lahore, on the one hand I am thankful for a sense of community amongst practitioners, but on the other hand, I feel like this allows an escapism of real debate. I have very few convictions and a real lack of tact, which doesn’t make a great recipe for art-speak small talk.
Who do you think is contributing greatly to the Pakistani art scene today?
I think the academia has been greatly influential on the direction and character of art emerging from Pakistan for a long time now.
Which artist/artists would you label as your personal favourites? Who has been a source of inspiration for you?
There is a really long list. I’m just going to recount a few, perhaps disjointed, names off the top of my head: Walid Raad, Mona Hatoum, Hans Haacke, Anslem Kiefer, William Eggleston, Gordon Matta Clark, Edward Hopper… it can really go on. As a viewer, I do not limit what one can possibly sample and like.
What is the one place you would love to display your work?
In the pages of a well-written book.
Describe your artwork in three to five words.
A conversation in silence.
If you were to base your work on a piece of literature what would it be? Why?
‘To the Lighthouse’ by Virginia Woolf. Among many other things, its exhaustive examination of how precarious an overlap between one consciousness and another really is continues to hold me captive. It’s a book that is meant for the reread.
What projects to do have in your pipeline?
Hopefully a solo show somewhere around next year, the details for which are under wraps at the moment.
What advice would you give to aspiring artists?
Consistency and consistent self-reflection: to undo with one hand what you do with the other.
Shameen Arshad is an art critic for this magazine.