Art is so fluid in meaning. What you want to say can divulge itself in so many forms. I am and always have been a lover of words. A fan of literature and a bibliophile. When I dig deep, this is the truth I discover about myself. I am first and foremost a lover and teller of stories. So, when this MA began, I was still finding my footing as an artist and as a person, but if you asked me what I wanted to say, I would have said I want to build a narrative.
Illustration was something I had (mostly) left behind in college, it simply didn’t resonate with me that much anymore. So what else did narrative art mean? I learnt that narrative art could present your history or your heritage. But I felt an outsider to Pakistan, its art world closed to me since I never did a BA there. I had discovered art in Jeddah, so did that mean those were my artistic roots? I had no idea. The one thing I knew for sure was, these different chapters of my life were inseparably a part of who I am. My heart would always hark back to a childhood in Pakistan and I will always feel heartbroken when that country or its people falter. My home would always be Jeddah, no matter how confining its laws may seem, or how many more beautiful countries I visited.
So I turned to something that came to me quite naturally. Amalgamating the idea of a public art project and a community art project to create The Untold Edition. Here I discovered that narratives can be spun and lived with and through other people. So the definition of narrative art became boundless for me.
But this blogpost is about the Iridescent Alloys, so let’s get back to that. Along with this search for identity, there were parts of me that had evolved in ways I couldn’t ignore. Motherhood had left me physically battered and emotionally sublime. There was a part of me I knew I had permanently left behind due to this evolution, and there was nostalgia for who I was, sadness for who I could no longer be and fear for what the future would bring. So, you could say, there was a struggle. Like when you dive into waters too deep, and somehow, the more you fight the more you drown.
Fluid art was therapeutic. I already loved how watercolours flowed wet on wet and turning acrylics into a pour was just as mesmerising to watch. There was also a deliberate loss of control, something you strive for when you’re trying to keep the tumbling blocks of your life together, not realising that it is this very urge that is causing stress and storm in the first place. So I poured acrylics onto canvas.
Interestingly, it was around this time that fluid art went viral on social media. And here came another fear. The fear of indulging in social media. For a person who had committed to staying home with the kids, but whose ambition couldn’t be quelled, social media was a dangling carrot. Here was an easy way to make money, meet people, display my work. But as I worked with social media, its muddiness was revealed to me. The way people were addicted to it, the way they turned into online mobs, the way they desperately curated their lives to look perfect while holding darkness and sadness in their hearts. Social media did not liberate, it instilled fear. Will anyone like my work? Why didn’t I get any engagement on this post? Should I share this part of my life? Should I share my art? Will everyone hate it? Will everyone copy it? I have to post daily or people will forget I exist.
It was these assailing fears that turned me towards adding clay to my fluid art creations. It was like a stress reliever as well as a literally brick in the face of social media: here! I’m not like you, viral fluid art. And the glass came from my heart, as I entrenched myself deeper and deeper into a culture that was foreign to me, but where I felt I belonged. The glass came from the mosaics that litter Jeddah like graffiti and the majestic Mameluk lanterns that catch my eye every time I drive down King Road.
So my waves came to life. Almost grotesque in how giant the wave was compared to the rest of the canvas, disproportioned but meaningful to me. I presented the first of them at the Indie Arts and Crafts Show and it got a lot of attention. But I remember one disheveled looking man in particular who observed it quite critically and suggested I explore further. His words: “To capture the ocean you can do so much more than this. Don’t you think so?” My response? pffft. I had done so much already!
Anyway, glass frustrated me. It was so difficult to use tools at home to break it, it was so difficult to assemble the broken pieces exactly how I wanted. It often didn’t look nice or convey what I wanted it to convey, and I couldn’t say why the aesthetics mattered to me so much!
Around this time, I ventured back into the world of books. There I was, ramping up a horrifying bill on my kindle. There I was working with organisations like JeddahReads and AlfKalimah. There I was, trying to write my very own novel. All of this took me right back to the beginning. Like time travelling to see an earlier self. Only this time, I was more informed. I realised I still wanted my paintings to actively, and not abstractly, tell a story.
Then I visited the MET. and I saw the work of Tiffany’s glass studios. And my mind whirled. Breaking glass? Why had fusing glass, melding glass, changing the very essence of glass ever occurred to me??? But of course, upon returning to Jeddah I discovered that this strange city has no glass blowing studios at all! (whereas downtown Chicago, for example, was littered with them).
Tiffany created paintings using molten glass and metal oxides. I could not do the same (well not immediately at any rate) but my mind began to envision a sort of snow globe. A layered and surreal painting encased underneath glass, peppered with ink and objects.
And that brought me to the final (I use this word carefully because nothing is ever actually final, especially with art) iteration of the Iridescent Alloys. The one that automatically encapsulates the notions of narrative, aesthetic and art I had been chasing from the very beginning.