Thursday, March 29, 2012

Saira Wasim

Saira Wasim (b Lahore, Pakistan, 1975), Pakistani painter, active also in America. Saira Wasim's images critique authority by using a painting technique that produces works described as “epic miniatures.” Prior to the 19th century, miniature painting was associated with royal courts in South Asia, but by the late 20th century it was being taught at the National College of Arts (NCA) in Pakistan. Wasim majored in miniature painting at NCA, graduating with a BFA in 1999. Her approach mirrors the philosophical and formal methods utilized by 16th-century Mughal Empire court painters in that she addresses contemporary issues and incorporates new materials and styles, as did the Mughal artists.

Wasim is part of a group of NCA graduates that does not set limits on miniature painting's purpose and form, unlike many contemporary practitioners and viewers in Pakistan. Like Shahzia Sikander before her, Wasim has introduced a dynamic technique to audiences in the USA, where she moved in 2003. Both their contributions also offer a more nuanced view of Pakistan at a point in history when the nation is primarily depicted as a violent society in the international media.

Wasim does not present a rosy picture of Pakistan and its politics; however, her art considers issues in a complex manner. In New World Order (2006), for example, Wasim painted the former President and Army General of Pakistan Pervez Musharraf. He is doll-like as he sits on the lap of the former American President George Bush. In this painting, Musharraf is miniscule in comparison with Bush, suggesting his powerlessness in the face of American dominance. For some, including Wasim, this reflects the US control of the world, from mass culture to governmental policies.

Prior to moving to the USA in 2003, Wasim examined societal conditions in Pakistan, including the practice whereby daughters, sisters and wives who are perceived to be promiscuous are murdered in the name of family honor. Wasim's series of paintings Honor Killings (2001–3) charm viewers even as they allegorize slain victims who are represented as delicate and beautiful flowers. In either politically or socially engaged images, the artist is compelled to address the turbulent conditions in Pakistan and around the world today, providing her insights into global woes and local troubles.

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