Spotlight: Amra Khan

Amra Khan, is an Islamabad-born Pakistani artist, currently living and working in Lahore. She graduated from National College of Arts, Lahore with a distinction in painting in 2008. She is presently doing her masters in visual arts from National College of Arts, Lahore, while pursuing a semester in École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts (ENSBA) in Paris, France.

She is skilled in oils, acrylics and miniature painting and often expresses her talents through sculptures and video installations. Her work tends to focus around having two diametrically oppposed ideas or personalities living in the same body. Conflicting gender, power and identity,  she works to speak through and incite the observer to question tangibility.

She has exhibited her works in galleries across Pakistan such as Alhamra Art Gallery, Zahoor-ul-Akhlaq Gallery National College of Arts, Rohtas 2 and Nairang Gallery in Lahore along with  Rohtas Gallery Islamabad and the Karachi Arts Council in Karachi. She is currently exhibiting her work in January at Expo Atelier Cognée gallery, École Nationale Supérieure des beaux-arts Paris, France.

Have you always known you wanted to be a painter?

No, I wanted to be a sculptor until I came to NCA and discovered that I could express more with painting. Also I did not need to limit my self, which is why I use many different kinds of materials in my work. At the time, the sculpture department at NCA was not very well established so I preferred painting because there was more input by the faculty. I was very lucky to have amazing  professors like, R. M. Naeem, Quddus Mirza, Nazish Atta ullah, Anwar Saeed, Mariyam Hussain, Laila Rehman, Imran Qureshi and David Alesworth– these people have made me what I am right now. Plus,  I knew for a fact that I’d be teaching at NCA– I need to share what I know.

Why NCA?

The history, the faculty, the location, the variety and richness of the people– it’s almost like a mini-Pakistan, with students from all provinces of different castes, creeds, sects and faiths. It’s perfect in its diversity.

How has your family been about your decision to pursue art?

It was hard in the beginning, but my mother and my brothers are still highly supportive.

What do you have to say about the local art scene in Pakistan?

This is just the beginning– we have a long way to go. I think my generation is very lucky in  getting such platforms and exhibitions at this age, where we have the opportunity to have people are admiring, critiquing and buying our work. There is a boom in the number of galleries and, with the papers now writing about us, I pray we don’t compromise on quality while racing towards being known in the international market.  Many of Pakistani artists can stand parallel to any international artist and we have amazing examples emerging now.

How would you describe your work?

Well, it is bipolar, like me! I wish to achieve Divine Madness– that is what I would say about my work. We are the same, I can’t imagine not working, I would be incomplete without my work.

What is your main oeuvre?

My work, one way or another, revolves around having two polar opposites, two different ideas,  temperaments and personalities living in the same body. The conflict is between the mind and the soul and the battle ground is your body, who you are and who you desire to be until you transcend to a higher level of greatness, the point where your soul takes absolute control. You seduce, tantalize, entice, hate, provoke, lust for and question substance and tangible quantity, the baseness of the flesh, the abject state of gender, the bipolarity of power, your own gender and the one you wished to be born in, until you can answer the question “Am I a man because I have a phallus?”

Your preferred medium?

It changes over time. I wanted to be an oil painter, but my mind deviates– it fluctuates from medium to medium. I paint meticulously, with control. I let go when I’m working with inks, tea and coffee. I make hair-soft sculptures and embroideries to keep my piece of mind. I draw wildly on paper but I never share them. Nowadays, I’m fascinated by found materials and just play around with them.

What, if anything, do you consistently draw inspiration from?

I walk around Lahore, I look at people, and obscurities– the side lined ones, the ones that you do not want to sit next to. I don’t know where I constantly draw inspiration from but androgyny, the homosexual and the transsexual population are a favorite subject.

3 words to describe your art.

Bipolar, Androgynous, cathartic.

Is there any central idea, issue or dilemma that you want to address in your art?

“Are you a man because you have a Phallus?”

Whose art inspires you?

Paula Rego, Francis Bacon, Egon Schiele– they are my all time favorites.

Iconography – Any recurrent symbols and what they generally represent

Men, phalluses, patterns, hair, dressing up, role-playing, dragonflies .I’ve thought about the reasons but I fail to come to an absolute answer. Maybe I have a deep desire to become a man because it is harder to live and walk around as a woman in Lahore. Maybe patterns are the repetitive representation of my mundane life, that one element of being a woman or a transsexual.

How important are titles in your work?

Absolutely a MUST! The title is a one liner that explains why I made a particular piece. Everyone views a work with a personal perspective but I have always felt the need to give a name to all my children– every painting, drawing, doodle that I make has an identity, a title, its own place in the world.

What, if anything, do you put in your art that represents you?

Androgyny– the desire to be masculine, that constant need to be equal, or in some ways better. Sometimes that needs to be acknowledged, seen, accepted. But I fluctuate and my work fluctuates with me. It can be very feminine, very homoerotic, or very simple depending on my state of mind.

How has your visual vocabulary grown from when you first started?

My story will change over time. After all, my work is all about self-exploration in one way or another. I have made many reasons for making what I make, most of them are simple others deep that even I cannot explain. That is one of the major problems with my work, I tend to fail to explain “why” it was it made and it looks the way it does.