1 August 2016 - 31 July 2017 (extended from January 31)
Ramla Fatima graduated from N.C.A national college of arts in February 2015 with major in sculpture and minor in print making and digital arts. She has participated in a few group shows around the country. She has also been selected for two artist residencies: ”B.Q (binqalandar artist residency) and VASAL international artist residency, Karachi. She currently lives and practices in Pakistan.
As a fresh graduate with just two years of practice, Ramla’s art career may appear to be on the right track – graduated from the National College of Arts, participated in an exhibition, left for an artist residency, came back and exhibited in a number of group shows, again left for a residency – the path desired and considered as successful by many of her fellow graduates.
She is however not satisfied with all this, feeling confused and having difficulty understanding the professional art circle. She does not want her artistic career to run on the usual trajectory of group shows, solo shows, residencies, and biennales etc. She wants to take a path which no one has ever followed. When she came back from her last residency, she started looking for another which would give her a new dimension and fresh perspective to her art career, but to her disappointment, all the residencies are running very similar programmes. Then she found RFAOH, which she thinks is the exact thing she was looking for and simply wanted to be part of it.
For her on-hiatus residency at RFAOH, she does not want to propose anything. She wants to sit back and think of “tasks” that are not related to her work as a sculptor; she might write a book on the issue of “the art circle in an artist’s life”. She wants to give her career a new start. She wants to begin this residency with her mind as a blank canvas.
Even before my hiatus period during my BFA I use to think why do artists reject the art world and say goodbye to all that? I had heard about various artists who have withdrawn from the art world or adopted an antagonistic position towards its mechanisms. I was very eager to know about the problematic relationship of artists to the art world. Now when I myself have been through all this initially i have played with the system, struggled against it and then finally have walked away altogether.
Three years later, through no effort of my own, I was invited to exhibit in a number of group shows at quite popular art galleries. A few months later, a well-established gallery offered me a solo show. Miraculously, I found myself back in business. I went back into my studio. My new body of work garnered some positive reviews and a few sales. Then, work got difficult. Instead of providing an incentive recognition paralyzed me. I felt a sense of social responsibility and competition that I hadn’t when I was just making art for myself. Then, a year after that show, I was considering quitting art.
My journey toward hiatus began as soon as my career had started taking off. I decided to stop making art and walked away in dissatisfaction. I was successful enough and was receiving enough recognition of my work but surprisingly was not contented enough. I was so confused and was blindly following the usual pattern of a successful career as always told by our teachers throughout our four years of academic career i.e.
Pass with distinction
Exhibit all over the country
Be a part of national and international residencies
Wow, sounds great till you haven’t achieved all this. But what’s next. After going through all these stages the most difficult part is continuing as an artist. And I was unable to continue art. I always needed a stimulus in a form of a deadline of exhibition, in the form of being selected for a residency or I did art to just compete with my fellow graduates. Inside me it was all empty. It was so depressing when I realized that perhaps I am not an artist. I started having difficulty speaking to people about my work and was so tortured by the feeling that my work is inadequate. I was unable to be a part of this rat race any more. I had started avoiding exhibitions and sales. Perhaps the biggest reason for not being able to continue art was that I can not mess with art. For me it is something very personal, pure and full of feelings. I was unable to use it as business. I can’t sell art. I can’t make art for galleries. I can’t do commissioned works. I seem to be an insult to art in my view point. For me a piece of art is so damn personal that I wanted to keep it to myself. I don’t want to discuss with other people to judge it whether it is resolved or not. I don’t want to exhibit in the gallery to be liked or disliked by the visitors. I don’t want art critiques to pass judgments on my work. It is something what I feel. For me art is the tangible form of my feelings. And at times it could be just intangible like a sound piece. In art we are taught not to exhibit first-hand information. You have to incorporate your creativity in it. But I don’t think so. I would love to pick up random objects from the street. The abandoned objects like a worn out pair of shoes and for me it is a complete piece of art. It is beautiful enough to be exhibited in the gallery. It is resolved enough to be accepted as an art piece. It is fair enough to be the portal of my feelings or the portrayal of the feelings of the person who had probably thrown it out in the street. I can relate to it so much. I don’t know why nobody else can relate to it. And I think it’s completely fine if other people cannot relate to it. Is it a mathematical formula or a rule of gravity that has to be universal?
I don’t want to paint that pair of shoes just to make it beautiful enough to be exhibited in the gallery. I don’t want to incorporate two three more objects with it just to make it a so called resolved art piece.
So I took a break and have realized that I don’t mind doing a job which does not involve art to earn money. But I can’t sell art for my survival. Even if I want to sell my pair of shoes as an art piece who is going to buy it? Who is going to exhibit it in his gallery? So, I have started working in an event management office where I had to work on thousands of things but not art. Thank god I was so happy. I was so glad. But now I think I need a break from this as well. It’s a human nature your mind at times needs rest. This is something that I have now realized that it is something very natural and you don’t have to worry about it. And I am taking it very easy. But I was quite sensitive for the break from art. I was like I am not an artist I was led by a mistaken ambition.
My experience of RFAOH was great. I highly recommend and support this initiative because there are thousands of opportunities and platforms for practicing artists but there are hardly a few or may be it is the only platform for the artists who are on hiatus for some reason. Art is a fantasy while real life is a bit different from this fantasy world. While being on RFAOH it allows one to continue with his/her practical life and at the same time you can go back to your fantasy world without any pressure of making art or competing with the art world. Unlike the other residencies where you have to just quit your normal daily life routine and go and live in a strange environment with a number of other strangers with a hell of pressure of making art. Though it is thought that artist residencies provide a break from art to the artists but unfortunately it is not true in most cases. I have written a number of proposals to a number of well-known artist residencies in which I have mentioned that I do not want to come up with a preconceived idea or a project. I want to come and explore and then ill sort out what to make. Or maybe I just want to come to refresh my mind and might come up with not even a single art piece at the end of the day or maybe I only want to do research.
I am currently leaving for Iran to visit Religious Sites. I hope I'll come up with better plans of not making art.
Here is the sneak peek of my current project. What to do else than art was a difficult question. Then certainly i have got this opportunity to be a part of a short documentary.
I have been working with three documentary filmmakers currently in the International Film Exchange program sponsored by the U.S. State Department through the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad and administered through the Humpty Dumpty Institute. The program trains emerging Pakistani filmmakers and funds the creation of short social issue documentaries on important topics in Pakistan.
I along with Kanzul Fatima, Jawad Sharif and Zeeshan Younas, working together on a groundbreaking film studying the effects of trauma on mental health. I have been featured in this documentary as a subject (a remarkable young artist whose father was kidnapped and to date there has been no word of him). I have agreed to discuss the effects of this trauma, the ways that I have expressed myself through my art and the steps me and my family are taking to move forward towards healing. This team of filmmakers is very talented, supporting and committed to tell this important story of my life.
SHOOTING INTERVIEW AT KASHMIR
Although the filmmakers are not being paid for their work, the film’s expenses are covered by the program. The program also includes funds to distribute the films, to create a permanent website with supporting materials, as well as showcasing the films in the United States and entering them in major international film festivals.
I am looking forward to showing you the finished film early in the New Year as it would be my biggest project of my on hiatus activities other than art.
With all of the power of knowing and the sense of being alive, we encompass within us every breath of our existence, taking leaps of breaths before taking another. We are born innocent, the sense of right and wrong, to know or not to know and the extensions of it are all man made inventions. What isn’t a man-made invention is the sense of belonging to a relation, no matter how anonymous it may stand.
This dialogue generated when I have started a research on the ghost fishing nets. I left for an artist residency almost a year ago and I was searching for a material which should be relevant to my subject that was “missing persons around the country”. I meet the coordinator of the olive ridley project which was set up by a group of Marine biologists situated within the Maldives working towards preventing entanglement of Olive Ridley’s and other marine organisms. They aim to actively target the origin of ghost nets using information gathered from a concerned community. They also rely on observations around the Indian Ocean of poor fishing practices, in particular small or large scale netting methods or any methods deemed detrimental to marine organism survival.
I visited his place and gathered some ghost nets to use them as my art material. This material inspired me a lot. So, I wanted to write something down about them. Because they seems to be such miserable creatures which are the portrayal of what you and I fear and hope, what we lack or hide, the idea and the strength to unveil what makes us or destroys us.
So, I was compelled to write my first post of December about these unpublished mysteries, how I respond to them. I want to express the feelings I had when I saw these nets.
They seems to have mysteries that even we are unaware of yet go on to finding answers we may never, only to satisfy what yearns the human mind .They seems to have a very strong association with the missing person and the identities that you and I have lost, a soul perhaps because they themselves goes through the same process of “lost and found”. These nets are once lost in the sea, remain there for years and then might be found by someone who again brings them with him, may be repair or recycle them in any way and the cycle continues… And some of them remain forgotten like the missing persons who have been lost for the past few years and we still don’t know where they are or will they ever come back?
They are a sorrow filled stimulus of what we are persistently undergoing. They showcase the absence present within them. The Hypnagogic ambiance of these nets ironically engages me in a more relatable manner, clustering the seen memories to evoke what dreads and concerns us. It seems to devour what lies in every beings heart, the despair of the absence of an identity. Its only human nature to fear, one which makes us veil what we know. What do we know? Will we ever know enough?
I essence the diminishing component and would like to extend my concerns towards the extensions of decomposition of those lost identities. I am compounding these found objects to render the sense of existence within misplaced, evoking many to cringe.
“Nothing whets the intelligence more than a passionate suspicion, nothing develops all the faculties of an immature mind more than a trail running away into the dark.”
Stefan Zweig, The Burning Secret and other stories
Passionate suspicion? Unaccountable and unaccounted queries that we all want the justification to, yet what can ever justify or rationalize the tactility of losing a character we could ever define so greatly, even more than our individuality? It includes mystery, violence, beauty, hope, fear, all summed up in these strange creatures. These nets are the portrayal of who once existed. The chaos that lies in our minds is something that we cannot forgo, and the one that keeps on building and burdening the souls of the lost.
These nets do not simply remind me the tragedies that we have become a part of but rather interprets the negative anonymous charms we are left with their departing. They hypocrite the phenomena and bury them under, It is you and I that are left with metaphorical alluring and eventually yearn for glimpses of what once was. What can’t be cured, must be endured.
I had always known the sky was full of secrecies, but not until now had I realized how occupied of them the earth is. Devour what we may know, to avoid the for saken distress that may come with. It is the hush-hush of the world that all things exist and do not die, but withdraw a little from sight and afterwards return yet again. The dead fish being trapped in one of the nets metaphorically says that “once something had existed and is now amongst these remembering’s”. This Familiarity Effect, where we prefer that which is familiar to us, makes loss more difficult, and if we mislay what we are by this time familiar with, we have to go through the spiteful process of getting acquainted with unfamiliar things. The phenomena in the pattern of searching, one loses itself.
Being inspired from that fish skeleton being trapped in those ghost nets, I painted a ray of dead fish emerging from the head of an anonymous identity and heading towards a mystical river, surrounded by rustic textured setting.
Dead fish are symbolic of a loss of power or wealth by an individual thus we are only as strong as we think we are, unaware of the wilderness of sadness that will carry our burden. The deteriorating of the absent identities is enough for us to create thoughtful speculations of what the future may behold for us. There is and never will be any loss greater than the one of losing the one. Our psychological mechanisms make us dread over the pain, yet with time the similar tends to heal and rectify us in a much bizarre manner. The pain becomes a memory and what we are left with are the illusory images and precedents of what we once grieved over, and soon noises are no more noises. Does the human mind make it fair? For us to heal with time? Will we ever heal for that matter? Should we even heal?
The amalgamation of these nostalgic memories and spaces no matter how vague and absurd they may seem is something which no one deny, neither is the ironic understanding one tends to develop by standing in front of these nets.
In the time and age with all we are witnessing, it has become dreadful and heartbreaking to bare the losses, even though they may not be ours- so to speak. The expectations we have about our future comfort and cement our emotional reaction to forfeiture. . One cannot help but be in reverence when he envisages the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous arrangement of reality.
“Qui craint de souffir, il souffre deja de ce qu’ill craint”
A French proverb that perhaps I have understood long before even I knew what suffering really meant. “He who fears suffering is already suffering that which he fears’’.