We asked Lahore-based visual artist Heraa Khan (one of the artists we interviewed for TFM’s launch in 2015) to tell us how has 2020 been for her so far, especially in terms of the works she has been creating. And she sent us this beautiful letter:
“I have been in complete lockdown with my husband and two-year-old son since the beginning of March. I have neither stepped out of the house, nor met with anyone. The first few months were filled with uncertainty and anxiety. My aim was to stay positive and find a new routine that enabled me to continue working and manage my son. Managing work with a toddler has been the biggest struggle so far.
Right at the beginning of the lockdown, I made a painting titled ‘A day in Quarantine’.
Coping with this difficult time has been a challenge, yet a balancing act for me and many others – cleaning, cooking, working, studying, parenting, staying healthy, and finding the time to just sit back and relax. Initially, the idea of being locked at home was extremely uncomfortable; the days seemed unproductive. But soon, I realised that the constraints were actually making me achieve much more than usual, getting through each little chore started to feel like an accomplishment.
The painting is a humorous yet empathetic self-portrait about these challenging times and my struggle to juggle everything all at once. I have painted myself reclined on a couch, in my sleeping suit, munching on some snacks while working/studying/binging on Netflix. At the same moment, I am surrounded by a pile of laundry, a vacuum cleaner, and some workout gear. The mask, of course, depicts the idea of constantly trying to stay safe during the pandemic. In the painting, I have used bright colours, particularly inspired by the Rajput style of miniature painting because I only want to associate positive feelings and memories with this time. I believe we will all come out of this stronger with a greater appreciation for life, community, work, and our everyday freedoms.
I then painted another miniature painting titled ‘Self Portrait’. The lockdown has been the first time I’ve painted self-portraits. Having no social interaction required me to study my own self and use myself as a muse.
The lockdown also enabled me to explore new ideas in terms of concept, imagery, and process. I have been developing a new body of work that explores the disconnect between mankind and the environment (a concern that has been on my mind for a while and became especially relevant during the pandemic). The new body of work consists of miniature paintings along with sculptures and interactive installations where I’m creating unexpected relationships between organic and commercially produced materials.
I have also been able to focus on developing a sustainable art practice. I have always tried to incorporate the use of natural and organic materials in my practice and use naturals pigments as paints. Due to the lack of availability and my new interest in the natural environment, I have started creating pigments, paints, inks and dyes from natural materials I find at home like flowers, terracotta, turmeric, and coal.
Since the galleries are shut and I have no way of showing my work to an audience, I have been exploring other ways of showing my work such as through Instagram. Though I have always had a presence on Instagram, but never really pursued the portal as an online gallery or as a means of showing and selling my work. The pandemic really pushed me to become flexible about not wanting to sell my art online. Since the lockdown, I have been using Instagram regularly to show and promote my work, and have also been making sales. This new approach has helped me stay connected with my audience and continue working.”