Josheen Oberoi of Saffronart speaks with Adeela Suleman about the trajectory of her art practice
New York: On November 7-8 next week, Saffronart will have it’s inaugural sale of Art of Pakistan. This is a curated selection of modern and contemporary art by established and emerging artists.
An important contemporary artist featured in this auction (including two of her works) is Adeela Suleman. She was born in Karachi, Pakistan and studied Sculpture at the Indus Valley School of Art (1999). Prior to that she completed a Master’s degree in International Relations from The University of Karachi (1995). Suleman has participated in group and solo exhibitions worldwide, including at Gallery Rohtas 2, Lahore, in 2008; Canvas Gallery, Karachi, in 2008; Aicon Gallery, New York, in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011; International Exhibition of Contemporary Art, Bologna, in 2008; and Hanging Fire: Contemporary Art from Pakistan at the Asia Society Museum, New York, in 2009-10.
Her body of work has consistently reflected a deep engagement with political, gender and societal concerns, an interest that was manifest in her years at the university as well. She has previously worked with found domestic objects made of metal, creating sculptures and body amours for women that beautify as much as cage the female figure (like in the work on the left) while her recent body of work sees a move towards a flatter silhouette in her sculptural work.
I had the pleasure of speaking to Adeela in 2010 during her solo show in New York at Aicon Gallery. Here I share with you my conversation with her about her work and the direction her art has taken.
Q: Your oeuvre has always had an underlying stream of social and political consciousness in it. Is that a deliberate choice on your part?
Adeela: I did my Masters in International Relations at the University of Karachi before my BFA and my experience at the university has been an influence in my work. The university was very politically charged and there was a great awareness and involvement amongst the student body. Even at that point, my college projects commented on such issues.
Q: Would you see yourself as an activist as well as an artist?
Adeela: I am not an activist. I am observing and acknowledging because one is aware of the surroundings, we don’t live in a bubble. I am not making a judgment on what should happen or not.
Q: There does appear to be a shift in the language you are using – from the steel utensils’ sculptures in the past few years to the works in your recent exhibition at Aicon Gallery in 2010, which have less volume. Could you talk about that?
Adeela:It has been a natural evolution for me. My college projects used to be about found objects, where I once made a tea fountain in a shrine. I then worked with motorcycles. The presence of utensils in my work came from using gadgets that made the life of women easier. So, I was making these objects my own. Now, I am using the skin of these objects to make the artwork. There is a loss of humor compared to earlier works because I am talking more of death in this suite of works.
Q: Is that also from a growing concern with the political situation in Pakistan and elsewhere in the world, the growing hostilities?
Adeela:Yes, you think about how we carry on with our daily activities when there is so much destruction around because it does not directly affect us. But there is always a tension between life and death, between what to do and not to do. The only thing certain seems to be death.
Q: Could you talk about the process in your recent suite of works After All its Always Somebody Else…?
Adeela:I wanted to use steel sheets like that used in mortuaries. Abdul Sattar Edhi, a great philanthropist started an ambulance network, where he would pick up unclaimed dead bodies, give them a bath and give them a dignified burial. This was on my mind when I started this suite of work. I do small drawings, put them on a computer and look for images I want to use, which are like found objects for me. Once I assemble the complete image, it is transferred to a larger scale and steel sheets are hammered to create them in three dimensions. I work with the craft people, because I am essentially a sculptor and see objects in three dimensions.