Born in Karachi, Pakistan, Marium M Habib recieved a BA in Fine art: Painting from Wimb_ledon College of Arts, University of the Arts London in 2018. She has participated in various group shows in London. Her solo show, Colossus & Friends was her first show in Pakistan. Marium now lives and works in Karachi.
In your work, you use figures as symbols. What kind of metaphors are you exploring through your work?
I use people I know personally as characters in a narrative, less so symbols. The gender of the subject in a painting is always imperative, even when they are animals. I use my personal life as fodder, and how I feel about the person and what I know about them effects how I depict them.
What I am expressing in a particular work revolves heavily around the gender of the subject, even when they’re animals. For example, the painting “Man and Cat” (2018) is about my being a woman artist and turning the male gaze on its head and so depicting the “female gaze” by fetishizing the male form. The large cat is a female and the muscular male figure is looking over at her in fear. This painting quite directly talks about how men are afraid of empowered women.
I reference art history and popular culture also when I am constructing the narrative, the titles of a lot of the works will reveal the conceptual ideas behind them.
Lets talk about the feminist slogan from 1969 “the personal is practical”. How do you incorporate that in your work?
The slogan is actually “The personal is political” by Carol Hanisch. I use images from my personal life to illustrate social/political issues. I look at politics from a micro perspective. I see happenings in my life being a result of greater social political forces. You could call it “confessional politics.” I feel like it’s relevant because a collection of individuals makes up the collective, and because I exist in the world what I experience and feel is probably what other people experience and feel.
I feel like it’s most relevant when it comes to the position of women in the world and how that affects our personal lives, the choices we can make, how defensive we have to be and the experience of inhabiting a female body.
I see the influence of politics in my everyday life, especially in this day and age of social media activism. The painting “Colossus” (2017) for example, very clearly references body politics.
You use oil on canvas and pastels on paper, which one would you prefer the most?
I like for my work to be visceral and intuitive, chalk pastels allow me to accomplish that. When I first started making large works with chalk pastel on paper it was like being set free from the academic baggage of oil paint on canvas, which I had previously seen as the only worthwhile medium to work with. Also, logistically, working on paper allows me to work on large pieces that I can just roll up afterwards, if they were on canvas they would be heavy and hard to move and store. They are also easy to crop when or extend if I want to alter my composition.
Colour is very important to me, with chalk pastel the pigments just sit on the paper and reflect light in the most beautiful way, with oil paint it’s mixed with a binder and sometimes the colours get muddy; its more saturated with chalk pastel.
Chalk pastel also allows me to work very fast and gesturally, which helps when conveying emotion.
When do you know a painting is finished? And What is your favourite part of the process?
I like for my work to not look too “finished” so I don’t really have the problem of working on one painting endlessly. It’s mostly intuitive, I know when they’re done when the figures have a presence. I also don’t like to spend more than a week on a painting because I think it takes away from the viscerality of the work.
My favourite part of working I would say is closer to the end, there is usually a moment when the colours start working really well and I sort of know what’s happening because the figures are taking form. It’s quite a rush and I can begin to take liberties with what colours I chose.
What are your biggest influences?
My mother, Sayeda M Habib, who is an accomplished artist has been teaching and encouraging me since the beginning. She has been a far greater resource than art school was. Portuguese-British artist Paula Rego in her subject matter, medium choice and stylistic renderings of the female form. Iqbal Hussain in his uncensored depictions of what would be deemed unseemly in this country and Tracey Emin in her bold unapologetic confessional works.
How do you navigate the art world?
As I’m just starting out l, I don’t really know. At the moment I’m just thrilled to be participating. I try not to be influenced by the art that’s popular and stay true to myself.
Which current art world trends are you following?
The word trend implies fashion, and I suppose as an artist one would want things to be considered less trivial than trends that come and go, so I prefer to think of them as “movements” rather. I reference art history in my research more than I would current trends and so I would say I look at works depicting the figure in contemporary art as they have been influenced by Lucian Freud. It’s what I call “expressionist figuration.” There is also a lot of portraiture that uses Alice Neel as a jumping off point.
How has your practiced evolved over time?
Yes! A lot! I only began taking my pastel work seriously in 2016. And my works have gotten a lot looser and more gestural with time. When one starts out one feels the need to prove ones’ technical prowess, but as I have gotten more confident in my practice I’ve begun to abstract my paintings a bit and paid less attention to detail. It’s also gotten a lot more gestural and much larger.
What is your dream project?
A large site-specific work in a public space. I also have really enjoyed doing performance art in the past and would love to again.
What are your views about art residencies?
They’re wonderful! The fact that a lot of the time they’re funded means that artists have the opportunities they wouldn’t ordinarily have. They facilitate an exchange, make the world a smaller place and result in really amazing art.
What are your reasons for choosing large sized formats for your artwork?
Large work is hard to ignore, its visually yelling at you. It’s like wanting to have a loud voice. I also associate large work with masculinity, and it’s interesting to note that as a woman in a patriarchal society engaging in masculine behaviors can be empowering.
When there is a large picture plain I can award myself a greater range of movement when it comes to gesture and mark making. I feel like I am physically inside the painting while I am working.