Ayesha is a self-taught artist who recently fulfilled her life-long passion to study and practice art. She completed her MA in Traditional Arts in July 2021 from the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts. Her work explores the concept of journeys using visual inspiration from medieval Islamic maps. Created in a graphic, map-like format, her paintings use vivid and highly detailed imagery contrasted with organic and fluid forms to illustrate the forgotten journeys that shape our life experiences. She uses Indo-Persian miniature techniques to paint scenes that are part map, part landscape and heavily steeped in symbolism.
Staying true to traditional practice, she makes her own water-colours using natural materials like rocks, plants, earth and gold leaf. Ayesha’s work is currently on display at Ithra Museum in Saudi Arabia as part of their Hijrah exhibition. This exhibition highlights Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) journey from Mecca to Madinah and is set to travel globally for 5 years starting this year. Additionally, Ayesha’s work is part of a group show called Humanism: Flowering of the Being showing at Asia House London until March 10th 2023. Ayesha is based in London and currently working on private commissions.
We talk to Ayesha about her artistic inspirations, training as a miniature artist and what drives her creativity.
Your work is inspired by the classical medieval style of miniature art. What intrigued you to pursue this art form?
Indo-Persian miniature painting has always been a significant part of culture in Pakistan and I have been exposed to it since I was a child. However, it wasn’t until I moved to London that I truly became inspired by this genre. I think that was to do with actually viewing miniature paintings in person at various galleries and museums here, hence developing a better understanding and appreciation of this art form.
When and where did you train to become a miniature artist?
In 2019, I enrolled at the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts for a Masters degree in Traditional Arts specializing in miniature painting. Having been a self-taught artist previously, studying fine art formally had been a life-long passion for me.
What inspires your colour palette?
One of the most beautiful experiences I had while doing my Masters was learning how to make my own water-colours. We were taught how to use natural materials like rocks, plants and the earth to produce pigments which we would then convert into paints. Once you get used to the nuanced beauty of natural pigments, it becomes almost impossible to use off-the-shelf paints from a shop.
What is drives your sense of creative direction?
My work explores the concept of journeys using visual inspiration from medieval Islamic maps. I have always been drawn to the curious visuals of antique maps that are a unique combination of organic shapes, detailed imagery and text. One of my favourite manuscripts is called The Book of Curiousities, compiled in 11th century Fatmid Egypt and containing drawings and information about everything and anything to do with the earth and the universe. There is an analogy between the structure of the heavens and the earth; what happens above is reflected below. I find that extremely meaningful. Additionally, the beauty of nature has always been a great source of inspiration for me.
Three of the most influential schools for miniature took birth in Shiraz, Tabriz and Herat. Which one of these do you feel your work resonates with the most and why?
I think I draw inspiration from mostly the Shiraz and Tabriz schools during the Timurid period. I love the mineral colour palette associated with Shiraz, with its cool blues and greens like lapiz and malachite, colours that feature heavily in my own work. I also feel drawn to the Tabriz school which is really a mix of Mughal, Central Asian and Chinese influences. This fusion of different styles resonates deeply with me since my own work is derived from a mix of influences.
No literature or art aficionado from Iran, Afghanistan, or even Pakistan, is a stranger to Ferdowsi, Nezami, Saadi, and Hafez, and their work which exists in exquisite manuscripts. Can you tell us about one particular manuscript which particularly caught your eye, and why?
I would have to say it is Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh. Not only is it a literary masterpiece, but also contains artworks of almost a subliminal quality. Each illustration or painting in that manuscript is a masterpiece in its own right, offering an unrivalled visual experience. There are compositions within compositions created with painstaking detail. No matter how many times I see these artworks, I am never ceased to be awestruck.
Have you considered juxtaposing modern objects into your art?
I am not sure how modern objects or imagery would fit in with my style of work. I feel like I am an old soul moved by ancient truths and the beauty of nature. I do like modern art too, but many elements of that as well are derived from archetypal concepts.
Can you share your favourite art piece with us and tell us a little bit about it?
For me, The Promised Land will always be a favourite and hold a special place in my heart. It was the first major artwork I did for my Degree Show and the first one to be sold. It was also the first time I was able to work out a clear visual language for my work. It depicts a river in the center surrounded by lush gold foliage. There are animals on the two sides staring and charging towards the river. This painting symbolizes water as a source of life, of mercy and of divinity.
The Promised Land
What do you think is the future of miniature art in light of the nexus between cultural heritage, identity, and ideology, and how it shapes us as people?
I think that miniature painting has a bright future. Institutions such as The Prince’s School of Traditional Art and others in Pakistan and India are playing a vital role in keeping this art form alive and relevant. Also, when miniature paintings are showcased internationally at museums galleries, and auction houses, they get the exposure and admiration they deserve. In terms of shaping our identities, when you look at contemporary art from South Asia, you can see how so much of it has been derived from miniature painting. The imagery, colour palettes and compositions from Indo-Persian miniature painting continue to inspire artists today.
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