Resisting the destruction of Lahore

March 19, 2018

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During times of socio-political chaos and competition for quick fame and grabbing a big share in the art market, there are very few artists seriously concerned about rapidly demolishing architectural treasures of Lahore in the name of infrastructure development.

Promising young painter and sculptor Rida Fatima’s concerns are deeper than the alarms raised by architects and archaeologists. She seriously studied the social impact and massive human sufferings caused by the ruthless demolishing of private properties for Orange Line project.

Born and raised in Lahore, she lived a childhood with a responsibility to take care of her family.

“I was hardly seven when my mother fell ill and I had to handle the household. Though it was tough, but a blessing in disguise that helped me a lot to groom myself as a strong person who can stand firm against all odds,” she said in a determined tone.

Unlike other children she would love to create things out of ordinary materials and objects available at home.

“I loved sketching, but making tangible things has always been more exciting than drawing on paper,” she vividly recalls.

Trained as a professional painter at the Institute Of Art and Design of the University of Punjab, she would regularly remake her class assignments at home in sculptural and relief forms employing junk materials. It led her to venture into creating miniature diorama, making small-scale architectural models, mostly facades of houses which did not exist anymore, with the help of actual materials. She is one of the only two Pakistani visual artists practicing this tough genre.

With a few group shows and a solo exhibition to her credit she is currently working for the ceramics department of the National College of Arts. “I am always sensitive to my surroundings and my work evolves from my emotional responses to whatever I go through.”

Her recent body of work came about a few years back when she observed the old houses around Multan Road being evacuated and deconstructed to pave the way for Orange Line Metro Train.

“During 2015, travelling regularly on Multan Road while pursuing Masters in Visual Arts from National College of Arts triggered me to document and recreate the facades of demolished houses.

To me, it is not only the demise of architectural face of city it is the deconstruction of the social fabric as well. It took generations to make the character of a city and it is being demolished with arrogance,” she said in a bitter tone.

“I traced the affected people, listened to their sufferings and tried to replicate a few of the facades. I was overwhelmed by people’s response; it’s a great reward for me,” she said excitedly.

Most of these works were created with conventional construction materials being used in Lahore for centuries. She employs wood and pigments to replicate wooden bricks and comes up with stunningly beautiful worn-out textures carrying the rustic aura of the old city.

Deeply rooted in the city and its habitats, the skilled and hardworking Rida Fatima treats her subjects with a sharp eye and strong emotional attachment to them.

Her works could be termed an artistic resistance to the destruction of a city in the name of urban development.

Published in Dawn, March 19th, 2018