Zamin gives final touches to his artwork
Zamin gives final touches to his artwork

Sculpture brings to the mind names such as Shahid Sajjad, Ismail Guljee, Huma Mulji, Anjum Ayaz and Jamil Baloch. But there are some unsung heroes too. Famous for their contribution in boxing, football and the martial arts, the Hazara community has also produced talented people in fine arts, one of whom is Zamin Hussain who uses Sangtaraash (Stone carver) as his pseudonym. Zamin cannot pinpoint when exactly this journey started. As a mathematics student he had a keen interest in modern physics at school. A sudden change of course and some abrupt changes later he joined the National College of Arts (NCA), Lahore. Currently, Zamin teaches art at a school in Quetta.

Here are excerpts from an interview with the emerging artist ...

Tell us about your influences in art as a child.

From being a student of mathematics and modern physics through uncertain times for his community, Zamin metamorphosed as an artist

I used to visit a relative’s frame shop where I came across landscape paintings which were probably replicas or sometimes high quality prints. I vividly remember the bold and beautiful strokes in those landscape paintings. Back home, I would dabble at making paintings. Later on I discovered the the paintings were by the British romantic painter John Constable (1776-1837). The years at NCA taught me some techniques but the cost was very high. They plucked away the magical feelings I used to have about arts. I am still in search of finding those feelings once again.

Out of the many forms of art why did you choose sculpture?

I am now more certain than ever that previously people had better taste in terms of culture and aesthetics. At a cycle shop, I saw an illustration of a man carving a statue. That image captivated me whenever I would go there to get my bicycle repaired. Later on, I came across Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s marble sculpture ‘The Rape of Proserpina’, which became my inspiration along with many others, and this is how I became a sculptor.

 Quetta, and specifically the Hazara community has been target of terrorism for nearly a decade. How did you manage your work during this tough time? 

During the terrible days of “target killings” and bombings, I fled the country with my mother. I lived in Damascus, Syria, for three years. To my hard luck, turmoil started there too and I had to flee once more. I came back to my own hell again in May 2012. I made sketches only in those days. I had produced many study sketches and preliminary drawings for many paintings since then but, unfortunately, I couldn’t find time to transfer them on to the canvas and into sculpted forms. 

A self portrait
A self portrait

Uncertainty is still there [in Quetta] although we have left behind those terrible times of the recent past. The traumatic effects will not go away easily.

Who has been your inspiration? 

Romantic painters, sculptors, scholars, poets, philosophers and writers have all been my source of inspiration.

Have you ever had a chance to exhibit your work? 

I haven’t produced enough work for an exhibition. Like everything else, art is also governed by the market economy through galleries. the market economy has a general rule for everything: fast and mass production.

Unfortunately, fine arts in general can’t get along with the market economy and only a few artists have succeeded. Markets do not regard arts as a highly developed form of human expression. They only mean business whereas sculpture is slow and marble carving is too slow a process.

Which materials do you use the most?

I use a range of materials. However, I was obsessed with stone carving right from the beginning. I started marble carving from scratch. Since we don’t have a tradition of carving sculptures in marble here, I faced a lot of challenges. Marble is a compact and hard stone. From moving it to cutting, every step is an adventure.

The main challenge that took most of my time and energy was tool-making. No one had any idea about marble carving tools. I basically need diamond-tipped tools which were not available here. Finally, through trial and error, I learnt about the right metals and tempering techniques. Many measurement tools and other technical equipment are not available here. So, I usually manage to devise an alternate, but it is time consuming and tedious.

A fine specimen of the sculptor’s work
A fine specimen of the sculptor’s work

Would you say art is in your blood or are you in it because of a lack of other opportunities? 

Genetics don’t decide hobbies or professions. In my case, I felt so much life in art which I didn’t feel in other things. Perhaps, a lack of opportunities is an overriding factor for the people here. Everyone is not fit for studying medicine nor is everyone suitable for art. Art is quite a difficult subject besides being magical and fun.

What was the toughest time you have faced so far in your career? 

There were days when I was penniless, no one attended my phone calls and then came a time when I stopped calling people. My work came to a stop. I had no money to buy material to complete my work. Maybe those days won’t come back or maybe I will again emerge triumphant.

Where do you see yourself in the future? Any plans to showcase your work here or abroad or do you plan to set up an institution to teach others? 

This is the time of instability so the future for an individual like me is uncertain. We live in a time of global unrest. People in general are dissatisfied with the performance of their respective governments. The economy is in a slump, locally and globally. I don’t see a clear future.

As far as showcasing my work is concerned, I am working towards it. In fact, I have been doing so for a long time… but again with the same feeling of uncertainty. There are fundamental questions, such as whether my work would sell or not. Nevertheless, I am working and can’t stop.

Any special message to other sculpture artists or any innovation you want to share

I have no special message except for the thing I wish to have for myself: time. If young people have time, they should manage to use it fruitfully.

Also, the fight is on for freedom of art as display of figurative work in public places is banned.

Published in Dawn, EOS, December 23rd, 2018