Trees have many qualities. They bear fruit and bring abundance. Some are very durable and can live for hundreds of years — so they are silent witnesses to history. Apart from the fact that they are pleasing to the eye and the senses, these attributes of nature have also attracted and inspired artists to produce some thought-provoking artworks throughout the history of art. Islamabad-based artist Fauzia Minallah also falls into this category of artists who are moved by the role of Mother Nature in our lives.
Laced with devotion to the healing qualities of nature, her works also carry meaningful messages that are meant to invoke change. This interest in raising awareness about socially relevant issues has become the catalyst for assuming various roles in her career. Minallah is a writer and illustrator of animated short films for children, such as Children of Light and Amai’s Mohenjodaro Adventure, which raise awareness about preserving nature, encouraging education and peace.
The artist has fought for saving trees in Islamabad so that they can be declared ‘natural monuments’ and experimented with slate-carving or ‘Chitarkari’ by becoming a moving force for promoting and saving this dying indigenous art form. The body of work that Minallah has produced from 2014 to 2020 is versatile, both in its use of medium and variation in content. Graduating with a Masters in Communication Design in 1991 from the Pratt Institute in New York City, she has been working since then.
In Minallah’s works, commentary on war, history and immigration is inextricably linked to the use of the tree, and nature in general is a constant motif. She is adept at working in various mediums and many of her acrylic paintings are transformed into backgrounds for animated short films, so they are akin to ‘moving paintings’. The use of painted dots that appear as broad swathes of patterned forms and rhythmic swathes and swirls, in white mostly, that dance across the surfaces of her portraits and landscapes, help carry us through her compositions. Perhaps they are a marker of time or the imprint of history?
In ‘What is Happening in My Valley’ Minallah explores the possibilities of this notion, so that the pattern and dot motif transforms into a negative, malevolent entity that ravages history. This animated short film was exhibited at both Manila and London as part of The London Biennale in 2016.
Laced with devotion to the healing qualities of nature, Fauzia Minallah’s artworks also carry meaningful messages
Her paintings become a setting for a tragic conflict. Unlike her serene white patterns of dots, that are a constant in many of her other works, silhouettes of marching black ‘dots’, that resemble caterpillars in form, are centre stage as they snake their way through her compositions. Marching armies and dark forms appear elusive, circling in and around a bust of a Sleeping Buddha which, it is quite likely, refers to the Buddhas of Bamiyan bombed by the Taliban in Afghanistan. Porcelain-like silhouettes crumble in the far distance, as does the bust of Buddha, revealing a blackened landscape in its place, infested with the darkness of war.
Her portraits of children, printed and painted on mosquito nets she bought in Germany and hung on various trees around the world where Minallah travelled, are also a powerful testament to her commitment to raising awareness about the importance of the humane treatment of refugees. The visual impact is visceral, with shadowy faces printed on wisps of translucent fabric swaying resolutely against the wind, much like immigrants trapped on boats at sea.
In her animated short film Trees of Life – An Ode to the Feminist Spirit of Life, Minallah pays a quiet but powerful homage to nature, motherhood and the plight of immigrants who have lost their children between 2014 and 2020. The film is set in a lush forest, and her paintings come to life in the form of a fantastical paradise-like setting, where children appear to be sleeping peacefully, nestled in the buds of flowers with butterflies and fireflies fluttering past them.
The bird sounds are complemented by the serenity of Minallah’s familiar painted patterns that are meticulously built up from dots. Ghostly forms of meditating Buddhas guide us through the calm until one is unsettled. The ‘sleeping’ children also feature the familiar prone body of the three-year-old Syrian immigrant Aylan Kurdi, who made headlines when he was found dead and washed up on the seashore.
Minallah was inspired by Herman Hesse’s book Trees: Reflections and Poems, when she conceived this short film. It is worth mentioning that prominent poetess Kishwar Naheed composed a special poem in response to Minallah’s work; the poem is dedicated to the nurturing relationship of women with their daughters.
Minallah is one of those artists whose works aim to build a bridge between art, political protest and social change. The underlying sentiment though is a plea: it is a call to embrace empathy and humanity.
“Trees of Life-The Feminine Spirit of Forests” by Fauzia Minallah is an ongoing virtual exhibition. Her short videos and animation can be viewed on this link:
https://vimeo.com/user10534286 Other works are available on the link below:
Published in Dawn, EOS, May 24th, 2020