Jan 26 | Interviewed by Kinza Kasher
Hi! I’m so excited to have you here and learn more about you. Let’s start at the beginning. Tell us about you, what goes on in a day of Masooma Rizvi’s life? And please include a little bit of your background how you got to where you are in your journey right now?
Masooma: I’m really glad to be here to be talking to you about my journey. An artist from Pakistan, based in UAE for about 12 years now. I graduated with a business degree from Pakistan’s Institute of Business Administration, worked for a few years in the corporate and then came to Dubai to pursue another degree in business.
But then I felt like my true calling was still out there, it was still an open ended thing, I just had to go look for it. Eventually I landed on ART. I started to paint when I was in Egypt, for a couple of years and there was no looking back after that.
I can say that my journey had started as a child but at that particular phase of my life, it really bloomed into something that I could call a career.I think there are some things you are meant to embrace in life, I was literally led towards that thing.
You said that it started when you were a child. Can you talk a little bit about that? What was the process? Do you remember a medium that you used to love working with?
Masooma: A child’s mind is like a sponge , it absorbs from the environment around and takes in impressions from the people in their life. I still remember one of my art teachers who came to us when I was in year five. This teacher was my hero back then !!She was an inspirer and a motivator who made me think about art, she made me perceive it and love it. That was when I started to paint, I also explored all forms of medium & crafts.
The other day, my mother came over and she showed me one of my papers from I think about 20 years ago, where I had done some Arabic calligraphy as a child. And that is what I do now. Arabic calligraphy is the focal point of my art and all other concepts revolve around that. When you look back on life in retrospect, you realize how things have been building up to shape you into whatever you are now.
It’s full circle, the idea of going back your roots, which is really cool. You said you found your calling in Egypt. I want to ask about that, what was the turning point where you were like, you know what, enough of that, I think I’m gonna do what I love fulltime?
Masooma: The calling is always out there , it’s just that we don’t trust it enough to let it in. My calling had been knocking on my door for quite some time but I would say it took me some years to actually trust it and to give in to the priorities laid out for me by the Divine. At the same time I had started studying and researching a lot of Sufism. We had moved to Egypt and it was the perfect place that helped put everything into perspective.
It gave me some time to myself, some time to think and to actually understand what direction I wanted to put my life into. All the elements got together in perfect harmony at that point.
We were actually just talking about it the other day amongst some other group of artists who were talking about saying epiphanies and we think that all the epiphanies have been used by earlier artists in earlier centuries. They used to wait for the perfect moment of a perfect light to hit somewhere and then that would become their masterpiece. But in actuality, if you really look at the processes and if you talk to artists nowadays about their processes, it’s really now about our life experiences and our state of mind that we are or the state of the world we live in. So you found yourself in that moment. What were some of the things that were shaping your thoughts at that moment?
Masooma: I feel inspiration can come from any direction. In Fact anything and everything around us has a message for us, only if we look at it from that perspective.
I used to meditate a lot , used to read a lot on mysticism. Having had a bit of that element within me since childhood, I felt it really strengthened my relation with my inner self, and hence with the Divine.
And as it is said , there is a natural magnetic pull between what you are seeking and what seeks you. This period in my life brought all of that in perfect harmony and gave me inspiration that has changed the way I perceive life, people & relations . It does comes out through my art in one way or the other .
Do you have art in your family background?
Masooma: There was a lot of talent in my family which could have been explored better. My mother, who still paints, just paints casually. She would sometimes paint on canvas, sometimes on fabrics, just various mediums but she never took it up professionally. The talent was there but it never worked out the way it should have.
I think the interest and the little skill set that came down to me came from my mother’s side.
What do they think of you now and what is their feedback now?
Masooma: They love it and they always encourage me to do more. It’s because of them that I’m able to continue my interest in the way that I’m doing right now.
Right. So talking a little bit about feedback, do you have any sort of like opinions or thoughts around where the art community stands right now? You are very well aware of the Pakistani art scene and the UAE scene.
Masooma: There are two things that I have observed over the years. Firstly, I think that in art there should be no labels such as “big names” or “small names” or “qualified” or “unqualified” or “self taught”. Art should be taken as such, for the sake of art, not something hidden behind these labels. That way, we are not doing justice to the work that is being produced.
Secondly, looking at the art scene in Pakistan, it’s very mature, it’s highly evolved. There are some amazing artists back home.
Ever since I’ve started out with my art journey, I’ve strived to bring those names and works forward. I feel the quality of art produced in our country is of the highest standard and needs to be seen & acknowledged by a wider market. In Pakistan, I feel one thing that should be promoted more is to pave path for the young and upcoming artists entering the industry. If the systems are more organized, more talent will come forward.
As an artist and as an art enthusiast, it falls upon us to make it easier for the ones who are just joining the industry or who have the talent that needs to be brought forward.
Right, being helped by those who have actually experienced that. I would love for you to speak a little bit about that and the initiatives that you’re setting up to bring our artists and our art to the limelight.
Masooma: I’ve set up an organization by the name of Overseas Pakistani Artists Fraternity, about three years ago (#OSPAF). It was formally launched here in Dubai. This fraternity caters to all the Pakistani artists who are based Internationally and working professionally. The artists must be working professionally and are keen on taking their art / creative career forward with us.
After working for about three years independently, we were taken up under the umbrella of Pakistan Association Dubai. The platform has become more formalized now & the scope widened. Currently we have about 50 to 60 artists on board, who are formally working with us.
Right, you’re taking the initiative, setting aside time and effort and putting in the energy. You hit on a very good point before, about mentors. In my conversations with younger artists who have often said that they feel the disconnect between themselves and the more well known artists. They don’t know how to get in touch with them or there’s no like mentorship or no organization formed that connects them with that person.
In the work you are doing for your organization, has there been an opportunity to address that mentorship and disconnect problem?
Masooma: We have been doing various efforts to bring in the mentorship element . However, There is a disconnect between the senior artists and the emerging.
Overall in the art industry and more so in Pakistan, there is a bit of insecurity when it comes to what the artists are doing. Every art practitioner has developed their own style and has evolved their work over the years and made a name for themselves in the market. There is a bit of resistance when asked to share their learning or make things easy for the new entrant.
There’s a hint of insecurity in the attitude of artists across the globe. I think mentorship and giving out knowledge of things you’ve learned over the years, only brings back more knowledge to your own self. It only opens up space for your own mind. The pie is very big, no one person can take the share of another. especially in the area where you’re showing your skills, like that of an artist, singer, dancer and more.
We all also need to learn to bake the pie together. I think it’s also going to require some sort of open mindedness and acceptance of new forms or art thinking.
Masooma: One thing I’d like to add is, maybe art is such a field where people work in their private space and silos that they have created , they don’t like to share what they’ve learned over the years. I somewhat understand that. However, I think we need to have a structured system within our art industry.
The government can play a huge role in this. If we set up systems, where there’s proper recognition for the senior artists and for people who have really put in their best, then people will feel confident that sooner or later their efforts will be recognized. People will know that if they work in a certain direction, for example teaching or mentorship, there will be a higher authority or organization that will acknowledge them. As of now, all the efforts are going unacknowledged and that’s why people just keep to themselves and don’t want to share. The system has to be put in place.
More than that, I would like to invite everybody who’s listening to us right now to feel free to join our Overseas Pakistani Artists Fraternity. It’s an amazing concept of being together on one platform, sharing your ideas , thoughts and work with other people who have similar interests and come from the same background. So there is a Facebook page, and there are hashtags that you could use to connect with this platform. (I’ll share those with you, if you could just play them at the end) it would be very helpful for many people who are trying to get into the industry and learn the norms of the industry.
FB: Overseas Pakistani Artists Fraternity
Hashtags: #ospaf, #overseaspakistaniartistsfraternity
This will give a good start to the people who decide to pursue art, also to fresh graduates from Art schools, and to Art professionals across the globe who are trying to make a mark in their genre of work.
Absolutely. That puts things into perspective for people. Human beings need feedback. Nowadays, with our art being published instantaneously on social media or exhibitions, opens for instant feedback. Artists feel seen as they get more comfortable with sharing online.
Can you speak a little bit about the value of giving and receiving positive and constructive feedback and how you think a person can choose to take it or not?
Masooma: It’s certainly one of the most essential things , more so when it comes to art or any creative field. The concept of mentorship that I mentioned earlier, has critique as a huge part of it. Unless a teacher or mentor tells you what you’re doing right or wrong, you can never improve upon what you’re doing right now. Again, because the system is not set.
It’s just my own humble opinion that if we set up that system, where there’s an open critique system , people could just freely comment on each other’s work. Like you said, when we put up our work on social media, it’s out there, not just for the positive comments but also for the comments where an improvement is recommended. I’m still looking for someone who would be generous enough to technically critique my work or tell me where the style could be changed or improved.
There is still a huge gap out there in terms of critique & mentorship in the art industry.
Right. I’ve seen people completely disregard students work sometimes because it’s “student work” and that doesn’t make sense.
I would love to talk a little bit about your medium. Your work is beautiful, it obviously comes from a place of love and learning. Talk to me a little bit about your process, what goes through your mind when you’re thinking about a piece that you’re making.
Masooma: We expect an artist to work a certain way, which is that they wait for the inspiration to come in and wait for the creative fluids to flow. Then they start painting and there’s no stopping and they don’t rest till they finish. That’s supposed to be the “ideal way”. However, we live in this imperfect world where we have too many demands on our time, too many things going on around us and in our head, too many tasks to be finished, kids running around you and many other things.
Being a female and a mother we have an innate capability to multitask, with all the mentioned things, I feel my work and the process adjusts to the situation. So it changes according to my current environment and situation.
If you talk about the general way that I proceed, I normally try to think of a concept first, which is always there in my mind. One or two concepts that I feel strongly about, are always hanging around in my mind when I go to sleep and I wake up, when I’m doing my work, when I’m driving, they’re always there. I keep evolving them by thinking about them more and more. And then whenever I get the chance to paint, I just put them on the canvas. I decide the colors, the theme, the basic palette, but the further details of the color and the theme come as I start to work on it.
Normally my paintings are never finished in one sitting, it takes more than a couple of days. I create a fusion between painting concepts and calligraphy as I just mentioned. So first, I normally do the painting bit , then I do the calligraphy and then I revisit the painting for some finishing touches. So it takes a couple of sittings to finish one painting.
Right, thanks for sharing! I feel like I have heard so many stories of process and the typical seems to be that people think of concepts for paintings that just never happen because, well, life gets in the way. We were all collectively hit on a reality this year, which is COVID. So has that impacted your work and your process at all this year?
Masooma: Certainly. Before COVID, people used to walk in into my studio , where I have all my work displayed, have a look at all the work that’s available and buy what they liked. Since COVID happened, the changed situation has certainly affected the sales of my paintings.
However, there were good things also that happened.
I have been extending art & calligraphy sessions for a long time. However . I had never thought about giving classes online before, but since we went into a lockdown, I was forced to move to explore that side and started giving out online sessions. Now, they’re going so well that I am thinking of continuing the same online sessions even once COVID calms down a bit. The online sessions are more convenient for myself and for the students who are attending. It’s more engaging. It saves a lot of travel/commuting time. My social media engagement also increased due to the Covid situation, and hence I have been taking more orders online.
As a way to support the cause of Art and to support the art enthusiasts during these tough times, I have decided to extend a discount over all my paintings. It’s just a small contribution that I am making to share some happiness during these tough times.
You’re absolutely right. In this world where we have an attention span of like three seconds, it’s impossible to create that perfect scenario. I would love to end with talking about exactly that. One, I really want to hear about one favorite art piece that you’ve created. Two, which I think you’ve already done, what are some parting words of wisdom you would like to say?
Masooma: Every piece of art is really close to my heart but if you ask about one particular one that really has my heart in it , is a calligraphy painting that I did some time back. The concept is something that I’ve studied a lot upon. and it intrigues me. It’s based around the concept of how an atom works and how there’s a nucleus in the center and all energy is attracted towards it. That is one center towards which everything else converges and that is what keeps it in place and keeps it going. If you see this on a larger scale, this is exactly what’s happening in the world. There’s one center towards which everything else converges and revolves around. This also coincides with the core concept of sufism , believing and striving to reach the inner, core of the self , in order to reach the Divine. So this is what I painted and it’s really close to my heart.
(Painting shown to the right)
I would love to see that painting! You’ve already talked about the parting words of wisdom but is there anything that you’d like to add in any aspect?
Masooma: One thing that I’d like to add, since you asked that question about my daily routine and the routine of doing a painting and conceptualizing it. There’s a small message that I’d like to give out to the young artists who are just starting their journey or not just artists, anybody who’s starting something in their life:
“You will never get the perfect environment or the perfect elements around you. You have to create the situation that is suited to you. Create an enabling environment, to do the work that you’ve targeted to finish. Never look for the external environment to be perfect, just go with the flow and adapt to the situation itself”
I’d like to give out a generic message to all people. Whoever has any wish in their heart to be someone or do something, know that – NOW – is the time.
There is no stopping, there are no barriers. The only barriers that you have are the ones that you have in your mind. There’s no external barrier nor a limitation that can stop you from reaching the heights that you have set for yourself.
So just go out there, explore what’s there for you in this world. Try out things. We don’t know how much time we have left for this life, we don’t know when it will end. The best thing would be to enrich it so much that in every moment you live a 1000 lives.
Thank you so much. It was a wonderful time talking to you.
Masooma: Thankyou so much for having me here at the Rung Gallery Platform. It was certainly a pleasure talking to you . The work that the gallery is doing is really commendable and coincides with my ideology of bringing out our local art to the forefront and giving back something to the country.
All the best !!
My calling had been knocking on my door for quite some time but I would say it took me some years to actually trust it and to give in to the priorities laid out for me by the Divine.
As an artist and as an art enthusiast, I feel that it falls upon us to make it easier for the ones who are just joining the industry or who have the talent that needs to be brought forward.
When you look back on life in retrospect, you realize how things have been building up to shape you into whatever you are now.
We are all in this together | Woodcut | 35” x 25”
Soul | 15” x 39”
Magnanimous | Acrylic on canvas | 26” x 36”
Derweish (series) | Ink & Acrylic on canvas | 30” x 30”
Whoever has any wish in their heart that they want to be someone or do something, please now is the time. There is no stopping, there are no barriers.