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Tête-à-tête: A colourist to the core

July 20, 2014


Nahid Raza
Nahid Raza

Years ago, writing about Nahid Raza I mentioned that the one thing which has remained unchanged about the overtly feminist painter is that her art has changed from time to time, proving the old adage right that change is the only constant in life. She is not the one to remain static technically, as also to some extent thematically. You have to see her paintings of the 1980s and ’90s to see how much has her oeuvre changed with the times.

As a single mother who had to bring up her two kids and face difficulties in making ends meet, it was quite understandable for the woman, the perennial subject in her paintings, to appear as a picture of gloom and the colours to be dark and murky.

With her children growing up and settling down and an increasing demand for her works, her paintings depicted a more relaxed woman and the colours brightened up. You now see flaming orange and burning red, not to speak of the occasional rich blue in her latest paintings. Her lines, forms and textures are all now refreshingly different. She had always been fond of miniatures and one could always see some influence of this genre in her work, but now it has come to the fore.

There are small motifs — leaves, flowers, fish, hands, feet, faces, shells, doors, sun and moon. These paintings appear almost like Egyptian friezes with hieroglyphics. Of these symbols, Raza says, “They are all part of a woman’s life. They are communicating with you and with each other.” Interestingly, although there is much substance in her canvases, there is also a great deal of space, sometimes as much as one-third of the frame has merely attractive background colour.

Nahid Raza’s paintings depict a more relaxed woman now and the colours have brightened up too. Moreover her lines, forms and textures are also refreshingly diverse

Born in a middle-class traditional Muslim family in Delhi on Feb 18, 1947, Raza flew to Rawalpindi with her parents when she was hardly a few months old. The eldest of five girls and one boy, her parents wanted her to study medicine, but science was not her cup of tea. In science classes she used to make sketches on her exercise books and once when she was turned out of the class, she sketched the teacher on the wall. One doesn’t have to be too imaginative to know what happened next.


Raza, a colourist to the core, was encouraged by her uncle Ali Imam, the noted artist and principal of the Central Institute of Arts and Craft at the Karachi Arts Council to study fine arts. He would take her to the school and bring her back home in the afternoon. By the way, a more accomplished artist in the family is the 92-year-old several award winning Haider Raza, who stayed back in India.

Nowadays the artist divides her time between the Central Institute of Arts and Craft, of which she is the Principal, and her paintings. She likes to share what she has learnt from experience with budding artists.

Who influenced her art during her extended career is a question she doesn’t normally like to respond to, but in an unguarded moment she mentions three of her seniors. “I have been influenced by the design quality in Sadequain, vibrancy of colours in Ahmed Pervaiz and textural strength in Bashir Mirza,” chirps Raza.

She loves to talk about her two children. Her son, who makes drama serials for TV channels, lives in Karachi, while her UK-based daughter, a prolific painter, sells her works at prices which fill her mother with more pride than envy.

Raza is currently painting with demonic energy for an exhibition of her art works at Fountainhead Gallery at Hampton Court in London. She has to take 20 canvases but is doing many more to be able to choose before couriering them. Having seen some of them I feel the choice would be difficult.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, July 20th, 2014