Born in Mirpur Khas, Sindh, Muhammad Zeeshan received his degree in miniature painting from the National College of Arts in Lahore. Recipient of Nigaah Art Award 2017 for Curatorial work, Zeeshan talks to Nigaah about his journey as an artist.
Nigaah: How would you like people to classify you; a curator or an artist?
Muhammad Zeeshan: A very local Visual artist.
Nigaah: How did your journey start in the field of arts?
Muhammad Zeeshan: My interest in art began at the age of eleven. At that time, I was oblivious to the meaning of the word ‘art’. I used to indulge in games like dog fighting, cock fighting, pigeon keeping (I owned more than 100 pigeons at one time). These activities taught me, or perhaps the patience was already there as I was drawn to these activities. I find myself referring to that period continuously in my art practice.
Nigaah: How would you describe the artist’s relationship to a gallery/museum?
Muhammad Zeeshan: It’s extremely volatile for a socio-political artist like me. It’s a ‘Saasaur Bahu Soap Opera’ (laughs), a love-hate bond. At one time the artist and establishment are like close friends, who work towards a common objective and at other times they are resembling binary juvenile valid it is struggling for a supremacy that neither belongs to them and nor does it lie on mutual grounds. Both the gallerist and the artist are in dominance and defenseless at the same time but with their distinctive domiciles. Overriding each other is extremely childish. Yet we do it…but only if we are what I am (smirks).
On a serious note, I believe the relationship between an artist and a gallery should be like a close bonded marriage, which is built on mutual understanding and respect of each other’s ideas and vision. So they can be saas and bahoo, man and wife but never girl friend and boy friend. A courtship like that doesn’t survive.
Nigaah: What stories inspire you in your art?
Muhammad Zeeshan: I am not a man of words! Ironically, though, I write this extensive, heavily worded interview. But seriously, I am not! Language is not my mode of communication, visuals are. Therefore I can watch any film irrespective of their language as well.
And I watch films all the time I am home. And by ‘all the time’ I literally mean all the time. When I am working, when I am not working, when I am awake, any time I can get my hands on a movie or go to a cinema. It doesn’t have to be a great movie. I love watching bad movies equally. You never know what you learn from them. But I do keep a look out for directors who create art movies, parallel cinema.
I don’t have a set place, person or an event from where I draw inspiration. Most of my inspirations are so random and so ill timed that even I can be stupefied. God forbid if I am in a crowd and I happen to come across an acquaintance or worse a close relative then those who have experienced my ‘experiencing’ it, have known to characterize me as ‘uncomfortably obnoxious’. So if I rephrase what I just said, I cannot force it nor can/have never planned it. It is creepily casual. But it is the most awaited next moment for me.
Nigaah: Which would you classify as your favorite art movement?
Muhammad Zeeshan: Modern Art.
Nigaah: How would you envision art “getting through” to people from a broader audience?
Muhammad Zeeshan: In recent years, media has become an important tool in getting through to the ‘broader audience’. When an artist creates an art work, media provides a gate way to reaching the audience.
The media benefits and promotes not only art, but it has become an important tool for every field, as it creates awareness and connects it to the broader audience.
Nigaah: How important are the audience and location while creating art? Or is it a global perspective that takes over?
Muhammad Zeeshan: Audience and location both play an important role, along with the duration of interaction between the artist and audience. I have experienced this in my assortedart practices, such as the ‘The Flag Ceremony’, where I fashioned an American flag using Pepsi and Coca Cola cans. I then encouraged the audience to interact with the installation. The artwork would not have been successful if there was no participation from the audience.
As far as the ‘Global Perspective’ is concerned, it is crucial, yes, but more significant is the ‘local perspective’. Without the homegrownoriginal there is neither a standpoint noran evaluation. Theintrinsic audienceshall always be our enlightenment when we are readying/ preparing ourselves to soar high reaching out into the unknown other. They chaperon our genre of correspondence; the best metaphoric, ocular exercises that we need to employ. We cannot jump to the Global angle while being under privileged from empathy without local.
Nigaah: Explain laser scoring technique that you use in your work. What is it and what made you adopt this technique?
Muhammad Zeeshan: The technique involves laser and that is as simple as I can go in the definition for starters. What is involved however is quite tedious, laborious and mathematically complex. I use the laser in a very modified form where I manually control the intensity of the laser to create burn marks. This technical scoring allows me to moderate and intentionally harness my laser to loosen, tighten, lighten and darken my laser burns to draw my image on the paper that I choose to work with.
In 2008, I came across a laser-cutting machine, which was experience, a few glitches. The laser, accidentally created burn marks on a piece of plywood instead of cutting it. It was a mesmerizing experience. I couldn’t take my eyes of the laser at it ran its course of burning the image that was fed to it. Part of my intention for exploring this technique further was this awe-inspiring play of laser on the surface. It is like creating magic.
Nigaah: Are you spontaneous when it comes to making art, or careful planner in terms of concept and execution?
Muhammad Zeeshan: I believe the best way to answer is by explaining my trip to the Napa Valley while I was in San Francisco. The whole trip was about experiencing the winery and the fields and of course –The Wine (smiles). I had never ‘tasted’ a wine before. And by ‘tasted’ I mean like an expert tastes it. My guide on that tour gave me the goblet of beautiful thick red wine and asked me to swirl it, breathe it and then sip it…but he asked me not to swallow until he signals. He asked me to keep it in my mouth, roll the thick liquid with my tongue and then finally allowed me to gulp the burning liquor down my throat. For many moments after that I remember experiencing a wonderful buzz, in my nose, on my lips, my tongue and completely heightened my senses to another level.
My art making is something like wine tasting. Only I roll my images for about 2-3 years in my head in my studio. I sleep with them. I talk to them. I visit them occasionally/quietly like they are a secret. Until one day they are ready to start a dialogue. Most of the time the dialogue is not a resolution but a contradiction, which informs me how to interact with the images, who have finally broken their silence.
My art practice/technique, however, requires careful pre-planning because of the math, vector software detailing and materials involved. The use of sand paper and laser cutting technique needs concentration and focus because if I am not precise and resolved in my mathematics the laser refuses to interact with my paper surface.
Nigaah: One can see many similarities in terms of inspirations, influences, techniques, methods and creations with art pieces. How closely would you link this with plagiarism?
Muhammad Zeeshan: This is a global world that we are living in. We are all connected and inspiring one another. We are all aware of each other on so many levels. So many concepts are similar because our concerns are becoming relatable with a few minor variations here and there, of course. We have felt the need to come up with words like Inspiration, adaptation, appropriation, Influence etc. to explain similar yet different visuals and stories.
When we talk about plagiarism, we are also stating involvement of deceit, fraud and theft. In such cases a deep and detailed study can only prove the crime-if there is any.
But borrowing imagery is only natural with access to so much information with the touch of your index finger. If the artist is aware of copying and identifies the ‘inventiveness’ then I don’t believe that it is an act of plagiarism. On the other hand if the artist is ‘not’ aware and is ignorant of having borrowed anything and is honest with his imagery then I would say let it go and not make a huge deal out of it. According to one online statistics, even GOD created at least 7 identical faces in this world. If nature can revisit for inspirations then we are only humans. But of course I stand against plagiarism at all cost.
Nigaah: Which genre of art has grown exponentially in Pakistan in the last decade? And why?
Muhammad Zeeshan: Contemporary/ Neo-Miniature. Because it is offered in academics as a specialized degree, but this only came to pass after more than sixty years of hard work.
Nigaah: Who in your opinion has been the iconic artist of Pakistan?
Muhammad Zeeshan: Me (laughs). I would take the name of Sadequain.
Nigaah: Tell us something about your most recent work. What are you painting these days and what is in the pipeline?
Muhammad Zeeshan: Yes, well answering this question is significantly exciting because I would like to share that I am currently the Curator for Karachi Biennale 2019. It is an extremely interesting journey so far. I have been completely focused and involved with research and documents regarding my curatorial note. It is turning out to be quite an extensive study and I have surprised myself with the kind of information that I have collected and dug up.
There is an exhaustive list of countries that I am travelling in the coming few months. I am looking forward to that as well.
Not to forget my casually creeping inspirations- some have surfaced and simultaneously I am working towards a body of work to show as my next solo booth in Istanbul Art Fair 2018 and a solo show in Berlin early next year.