The artist Huma Mulji born in Karachi, completed her Bachelors in Fine Art (Sculpture and Printmaking) from the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture in 1995 and a Masters in Fine Art (New Media Arts), from Transart Institut, Berlin, acrredited by Donau-Universität Krems, Austria, in 2010. Mulji's participation in recent selected exhibitions includes “Twilight”, a solo show at Project 88, Mumbai, India, 2011, “The Rising Tide”, Mohatta Palace Museum, Karachi, 2010, “Where three Dreams Cross”. Whitechapel Gallery, London, UK, 2010, “The Empire Strikes Back”, The Saatchi Gallery, 2010. In 2009 “Hanging Fire: Contemporary Art from Pakistan, at Asia Society, NY, in 2008, Half-Life, a two person show at the Zahoor ul Akhlaq Gallery, Lahore, and Farewell to Post Colonialism, Third Guangzhou Triennial, Guangdong Museum of Art, China; Desperately Seeking Paradise, Pakistan Pavillion, ART DUBAI, UAE and Arabian Delight, Rohtas Gallery, Lahore. In 2007 Take Away,Zahoor-ul-Akhlaque Gallery, National College of Art, Lahore; “Outside the Cube”, National Art Gallery, Islamabad; Contemporary Art from Pakistan, Thomas Erben Gallery, New York, USA; Destination Asia: Non-strict correspondence, by Indian and Pakistani artists, Soros Center for Contemporary Art-Almaty, Kazikhistan and in 2006 256 Shades, V.M. Art Gallery, Karachi; Sub-Contingent, Fondazionne Sandretto Re Rauburg, Torino, Italy and Flights of Fancy, Royaat Gallery, Lahore, Pakistan. Mulji is the recipient of the Abraaj Group Art Prize 2013. Here she provides thought-provoking answers on art and the role of artists.
Nigaah: Did you always want to be an artist?
Huma Mulji: No, it was an accident. I don’t think I knew, growing up, that there was such a thing as art school, or a career as an artist. I completed a business degree before I discovered, it felt all wrong, and I landed in art school completely by accident, with no idea of what this meant or where it could lead.
Nigaah: What’s integral to the work of an artist?
Huma Mulji: This is like asking what makes a joke funny. It either works or it doesn’t, and there is a very fine line between the two. The ingredients could all be there, and it isn’t art, or there are none of the known ingredients, and it feels sublime. Perhaps it is the relationship between form and content. What else is integral? Ambiguity? Integrity? Context? A viewer to complete it?
Nigaah: In your opinion, what role does the artist have in society?
Huma Mulji: I’m not sure why artists always get the privilege of a role to play, whereas midwives save lives, farmers provide food etc. etc. etc. far more useful things, I’d say. Like every other role, artists too have to do what they have to do, and do it well, even if it requires doing nothing obvious.
Nigaah: How do you see the future of art in Pakistan?
Huma Mulji: I’ve no idea. More of the same?
Nigaah: Should art promote positivity or despair, nostalgia and deterioration?
Huma Mulji: Art shouldn’t promote anything, or at least not one thing. Promotion is by its very nature propaganda. Even if its seen as positive in the present time. Especially if it’s homo-phonic, a singular idea and sure of itself.
Nigaah: What subjects inspire you?
Huma Mulji: People and the fragility their lives, futility, the absurd, the dysfunctional, labor, and how the public space performs. I read a lot of fiction and it profoundly influences how I think, my sense ‘reality’. I’m compelled by the tragic, the tender and the comic. I’m interested in speculative futures and technology, and what it means for the human race and beyond, and lots of other things. The one thing I am completely ignorant about is popular television, which I think is an acute gap in my knowledge. I never learnt how to watch TV and still can’t. So I haven’t learnt to navigate around contemporary television culture and haven’t seen anything after the PTV dramas of the 80’s, when the streets would be deserted at 8:00 p.m. because the whole country would be watching an episode of this or that.
Nigaah: What is the best thing about being an artist?
Huma Mulji: There are so many joys of being an artist. It allows for curiosity and play, to take a step back from the obvious and to constantly recalibrate. I think everyone should be an artist. It’s liberating.
Nigaah: What would you classify as your best work so far?
Huma Mulji: I don’t know. I like to think it is yet to come.
Nigaah: What’s your work-day like as an artist?
Huma Mulji: Not at all like an artist. My life as an artist is often mostly in my head, as I do what needs to be done, rather than what I’d ideally like to be doing. I don’t work in the studio full time, but I am always making work. I teach most days, and in between one teaching commitment and another, I print, photocopy, cast, edit, write, walk, talk, read or remain silent, or whatever it is that feels right for what I’m currently struggling with. The thing about being an artist is that you don’t stop working at any point in the day or night. I resolve a lot of work in a half asleep or half awake state, and I think its because my conscious brain is not at its most powerful then, allowing intuition to win.
Nigaah: How would you compare digital vs hand painting?
Huma Mulji: I wouldn’t compare it. Painting has its own aesthetic and intellectual history, which has few parallels with digital imaging, which has its own trajectory. And yet of course, at the end of the day, it is all image/meaning-making, and there are shared points of reference. They can co-exist without competition, and speak about different things in different ways.
Nigaah: You teach at the School of Visual Arts and Design at the Beaconhouse National University. Please comment on the evolvement of teaching art in Pakistan.
Huma Mulji: I taught at BNU from 2002-2015. I currently teach in the UK. Art schools in Pakistan are very special. It is perhaps what most distinguishes the Pakistani Art world from other places in South Asia or elsewhere. Most, or a large number of practicing artists in Pakistan teach, parallel to their art practice. So the gap between artist and art student is very small. Art schools serve as refuge to so many young artists. I just wish there was more such opportunity in the public sector, more state funding across Pakistan to allow for a range of critical, formal, practices to flourish and be sustained in every large and small town.