Miniature paintings are some of the most fascinating pieces of art to look at, given the format and their level of intricate detail. Like Islamic calligraphy and illumination, it is a form of traditional Islamic art and is considered to be one of the most developed form of Islamic painting.
My Beloved Unfolds
U.K based visual artist, Fatima Zahra Hassan is an expert miniature painter. Having graduated from Royal College of Art, London and Prince’s School of Traditional Art. Dr. Hassan is trained in traditional Indo-Islamic, Mughal and Persian painting. Her work can be found in private and public collections, including the Prince of Wales. She teaches and exhibits her work in galleries and museums all over the world.
We talked to Dr. Hassan about her career journey, inspirations and the challenges of being a female brown Muslim visual artist in the West.
Night of Union
When did you first start practicing as an artist?
As soon as I graduated and my undergraduate show was still when I made my first sales.
Your works are inspired by miniature painting traditions of India and Iran. What made you develop an interest in these artistic traditions?
As a student of Fine Art in Pakistan's premier art institution National College of Arts Lahore, widely known by its acronym NCA, I got exposure to the art of Indo-Persian painting tradition. I found it relevant and rooted in my culture and made more sense than anything else.
A fall copy
How did you train to become an artist specializing in these traditional artforms?
A well-known miniature painting teacher Professor Bashir Ahmad (an Ustad), taught me at the NCA Lahore. I graduated and majored in South Asian and Persian Miniature Painting.
Your work has a contemporary aesthetic, how did you create this style?
I came to study at the UK's Royal College of Art, where I learned the World's traditional arts and was taught by two outstanding tutors, namely; late Professor Keith Critchlow and Mr Paul Marchant. There I learnt about Visual Islamic and all the other traditional arts, including Icon Painting, Sacred Geometry and Italian Rennaissance painting techniques, to name a few! I got exposure to Far East Asian Art, Middle Eastern and European Art and had the privilege to visit the museums in London and the UK. My aesthetics changes over time. From a traditional to a more contemporary approach; Truth, Beauty and Goodness have always been vital. Secondly, my deep interest in the poetry and literature of South Asia and the Middle Eat also influenced me to embrace the storytelling tradition. My work has a strong narrative, and it deals with metaphors and symbolism peculiar to the East.
Story of a Seed
What are has been the most challenging moment in your career to date?
The most complex and challenging moment (s) deals with the superficial and pseudo side of the commercial aspect of selling art and making money through art. At the turn of the century, it changed a lot to survive as an artist. I find myself at a crossroads where I do not want to compromise. Artists also have ethical considerations and should have morals related to their practice. It is not easy to survive as a female brown Muslim visual artist living in the West. This is all challenging!
Can you share your favourite work of art you have created so far with us and why is it your favourite?
I like many artworks, but I would like to share the garden of Babur, which I created and painted inspired by Mughal and Persian Painting traditions. The garden is located in the city of Kabul, modern Afghanistan. It was rebuilt and regenerated by the Aga Khan Development Network and was originally built by the first Mughal Emperor Zaheeruddin Muhammad Babur in the early 16th Century.
It is sprawled over twenty-six acres of land with water channels, terraces and fruit orchids. There is a tomb at the top, a mosque on the left and a palace on the right. It starts from the top of the mountains, goes into planes, and ends at the Kabul River. I was commissioned to do this painting and had to travel to Kabul for two days on a UN humanitarian flight in 2006/07. It took nearly nine months to paint it.
Mystery of Alif
What do you think the future of Islamic art looks like, and how do you think we can continue to keep the tradition alive?
The future of Islamic Art is bright. It is universal and has embraced many cultural sensibilities. Islam as a religion has no boundaries and has timeless values. So is its art, neither has the boundaries nor it is confined to any country.
For more information follow Fatima Zahra Hassan on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/fzh_atelier/?hl=en
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