Categorized | Feature, Interviews

‘My art reflects life of a South Asian woman’

Posted on 09 January 2013 by admin

“I think my experiences in life are reflected in my art. It reflects the lives of South Asian women, with a special focus on Pakistan. My work concerns with issues of marriage, relationships and independence of thought. It’s about the pressures which middle class families face – like those of dowry, choice in marriage and the concept of “Chand si Bahu” or perfect appearance.”


Sumaira Tazeen is a contemporary miniature painter, educationist and a curator. She received her BFA in Miniature Painting from the National College of Arts, Lahore in 1996. Since 1996, her work has been featured in various group and solo exhibitions in Pakistan, United States, Canada and United Kingdom. She’s also taught for seven years as an Associate Professor at Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture, Karachi.

Born in Hyderabad (Pakistan), Sumaira now resides in Oakville, Ontario. As she points out, her art works are a “depiction of a path running parallel with her life”. She has always looked at her art “through the eyes of a woman, who is conscious of the issues prevalent in society and is keen to bring a positive change in them”.

Sumaira is a recipient of several awards, some of them being Charles Wallace Trust fellowship 2004 and DIFD Scholarship award for 2003- 2004. Besides traditional and contemporary styles of Miniature Paintings, she also dabbles into sculpture, video, and installation art. In a conversation with Generation Next, the artist talks about the concerns reflected in her work and life as a South Asian artist in Canada.


1. When did you move to Canada?

I moved to Canada in March 2012 due to personal reasons.

Also, Pakistan’s political situation has made lives difficult for many to live in peace; there is lot of frustration in almost every aspect (be it security or the economy). All these factors have pushed people to move away from a beautiful country which has rich natural resources, a distinct culture and a strong history.

Besides that, I have more opportunities to explore and expand my career as an artist. I am planning to do my masters in fine art next year. This was something I always wanted to do but couldn’t just because there are no good graduate programs and I had no money to apply in international universities at that time. Here in Canada, I am quite satisfied with my progress so far.

2. Tell us something about your initial days in Canada. Was it a smooth ride?

Thank God it wasn’t bumpy as such. It was actually a smooth sailing. I had commissioned a painting to complete, so had no financial issues. My husband has got a good job. He is a food technologist and works for quality control in a coffee plant. I started a part time job but decided very soon that it is not my forte, but the job gave me a good understanding of the Canadian culture and work environment.

Now I want to work as a self-employed visual artist. I am participating in shows. My art video got selected to be shown soon at Celebration Square in a show named The Gaze. It’s a project organized by AGM and Mississauga city culture division. I recently gave a presentation at the department of Fine Art, Queen’s university, Kingston Ontario. I’m also planning for my MFA in 2013.

3. You’ve said that your work is “about the pressures and anxieties I have, as a woman in this culture. It is about the dreams of a bride who awaits the happiness in life. It is about expressing one’s own feelings” — What are your concerns “as a woman” that your art works reflect?

I think my experiences in life are reflected in my art. It reflects the lives of South Asian women, with a special focus on Pakistan. My work concerns with issues of marriage, relationships and independence of thought. The pressures which middle class families face are those of dowry, choice in marriage and the concept of “Chand si Bahu” or perfect appearance.

4. As a woman artist, how difficult was it to establish yourself in the competitive art industry?

It was not difficult fortunately to mingle in the art circle. I was lucky enough to get the opportunities (of course I put in efforts for it and tried my best to give to the community). When I started, I was the only miniature painter in Karachi. I started almost all the miniature painting departments in universities and art colleges of Karachi. I introduced miniature as Neo Miniature there.

6. You’ve said: “The research in my art practice has always questioned the marriage practices in our society. The criteria, setting the standards of good and bad!” Would you call your art “feminist”? Is it an activism of sorts?

Yes it is about questioning the norms of the society. May be it’s feminist but it’s not purely feminist. That’s because I sometimes do not agree with pure feminist theories. My ideas are built up on my own experiences.

7. What do you think of the international art scene? Are South Asians able to carve a niche for themselves here in Canada?

Yes there is a great room for that. Artists are already merging in the scene but definitely a lot needs to be done, especially introducing miniature painting as Neo Miniature (not traditional craft). This art form has a lot of future and it’s booming internationally. I think an artist should be open to the ideas and mediums of the fast moving world.

8. Art is a major form of investment. Do you think in all this it is being reduced to mere business? Do people really understand ‘art’ in the true sense of the word?

Yes it is investment too and there is a commercial aspect attached to it, which is not bad, but maintaining that balance in every aspect of life is important.

As far as understanding art is concerned, I would say that yes there are people who take art as an art form.

9. South Asians are creating waves at Christie’s – One of them being Tyeb Mehta. What’s your opinion on the art scene in the subcontinent?

I think art scene in South Asia especially Pakistan and India is booming internationally. Apart from the seniors like Sadeqain, Jamil Naqsh Souza, M F Husain and Tyeb Mehta, the young artists have been getting recognition too. May be it’s because of the current political situation in the countries especially Pakistan and the type of work the artists produce is inspired by it. For instance, Imran Qureshi, Rashid Rana, Aisha Khalid, Hamra Abbas, Risham Syed (there is a big list), and from India Subodh Gupta, Riyas Komu and Dibanjan Roy.


10. What feedback have you received from the community so far?

So far it’s encouraging. I’d like to see more South Asian artists doing well in Canada. I want to endorse miniature painting as an art form/medium of expression in art institutions. Also, I want to introduce South Asian art and culture in the youth of today because I feel that art students are only familiar with western art mediums and history.

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