Adeela Suleman is a visual artist whose work often has an underlying theme of political or social consciousness – which she says is not deliberate, but is inspired by Pakistan’s violent and chaotic environment.
In her work, Ms Suleman tries to negate the effects of violence by camouflaging its impact. She often works with metal, and one of her many striking pieces is a sculpture of armour shaped like a woman’s body, to represent a cage.
She was at the Islamabad Literary Festival, where Dawn caught up with her to talk about art and its promotion.
Q: Do you think literary festivals and similar events benefit art and artists?
A: I think they do. In Pakistan, art and culture are not a priority and artists do not have as many platforms to promote their work and to talk about art in general, which is why they should take up any opportunity to do so. An artist has before him a diversity of audiences at literary festivals, which includes other artists, curators and people who want to discuss art and find out more about it.
The Islamabad Literary Festival faced a lot of logistical and administrative problems this year because of which the number of people attending sessions was not as high as it used to be, but bigger festivals like the Karachi Literary Festival, offer a lot of opportunities for artists and their audiences to interact and engage in meaningful discourse. This helps in breaking the stereotypical, clichéd portrayal of an artist and the assumption that art is difficult to understand.
Q: Is the promotion of art affected by the security situation in the country? Is art being ignored by policymakers?
A: A developing country’s priorities are different. I am not going to get into the whole corruption issue, but art is also a luxury in a developing country, especially one with a security situation like ours. Though art does change mindsets and thinking, it does not bring about a quick, visible, tangible, quantifiable change which is why it is often sidelined.
In regards to promotion, artists have been saying that 9/11 came as a blessing for artists and it is also true for Pakistani artists. Those in Palestine, Afghanistan and other war stricken or so to speak, violent countries got more promotion because of the situation in their countries.
People became interested in what was happening in these countries, they wanted a closer picture of the situation. And artists catered to that need, if subconsciously.
Q: All your works have a theme of social consciousness. Do you consider yourself an activist as well as an artist?
A: I am not an activist, I am just reflecting everything I am seeing and everything I am going through. Art comes from whatever you are going through. It is about understanding change. I was inspired by how much pleasure is derived from violence, so I just tried to camouflage violence by making it so beautiful that no one sees it anymore.
Q: What is your creative process, what inspires you?
A: Sometimes I know what I want to make before I begin a piece and at others, the piece just comes along as I work. It is a back and forth process. Sometimes I forget what I wanted to make exactly and I will be walking in the market or doing some other everyday chore when something will bring back the memory and I will set to work. That said I don’t purposely make art. I just go along with whatever strikes me and whatever inspires me
Originally published in Dawn, April 28th, 2016