Women’s voices need to be heard: Saulat Ajmal on curating art exhibition ‘Intimate Conversations’ | Pakistan Today

Women’s voices need to be heard: Saulat Ajmal on curating art exhibition ‘Intimate Conversations’

Intimate Conversations is a group exhibition by eight brilliant women artists rooted in the subcontinent and spread around the world being held from February 25 to March 10 at the Royaat Art Gallery in Lahore.

The exhibition will feature seven new paintings, eight sculptures and nineteen works on paper which explore themes of love, life, metaphors of home and being a woman in today’s world, through abstractions of the human body and evocations of sacred iconography.

With eight artists speaking of their experiences of life and the process of making, the works defy a broad stroke social construct or an umbrella term to describe them all. The works stand for their individuality and yet they all speak to each other on a level that’s deeply personal. They are as similar to each other as the abstract expressionists’ works in their quest for making art that comes from within and just as different in their appearance.

The curator Saulat Ajmal, speaks exclusively to Pakistan Today regarding the artwork.

-Tell us about your background in arts, Saulat.

I’m an artist, educator, curator and writer trained in all matters of the arts from Hunter College in New York and Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond VA. I’ve been working in this field for over a decade and a half in the US and have recently moved back to Pakistan.

I’m currently a permanent faculty at National College of Arts.

-You are an artist yourself, how did you venture into curating artworks?

Being in the creative field means that you constantly are looking at other artists that are part of the beauty of this field.

I have been teaching and curating shows in the US as well, but to move back and continue to create opportunities for artists to come together and show work here, to see a selection of some brilliant artists under one roof, is a win-win situation for me. I love to see what artists are constantly up to. Going into their studios is like being invited into peoples most sacred places. Talking about their works and bringing out what I choose to see as a collection that speaks to me, is the most intriguing element of curation for me. When you’re passionate about the arts this just makes sense in every way.

-Tell us about ‘Intimate Conversations’ and its relevance/relation to our country’s context. 

“Intimate Conversations” was inspired by a reading I always refer my students to. “The Laugh of the Medusa” by Helene Cixous. Cixous is a French philosopher, feminist writer and literary critic who talks about “écriture feminine” as the concept of women writing their own stories. If they don’t write them they will get erased from history and only be known through someone else’s lens, which is the male lens more often than not.

This is a very crucial concept for any society but especially in a society like ours, where women are juggling many hats and accomplishing feats and yet they are constantly being pigeonholed into stereotypes of the submissive gender.

-What mediums have the participating artists used in their artworks? 

There are paintings on wooden panels and canvas, works on paper and wasli, prints, sculptures made of resin and cut up cartons of alcohol and other found material.

-How is it that all participating artists happen to be women? 

This show is gender specific but I choose to work with women not to speak of their uniformity as a specific gender but rather to highlight their differences in their approach to life and art making. Life and art are not separable and I have specifically chosen artists that share a passion to express their innermost concerns of being alive. It takes courage to speak of your core concerns and women’s voices need to be heard. Being from a certain gender will always shape your experiences in life and inform your work but gender is never the only thing that defines you as a person. It’s your individuality that trumps all and that is what the show explores through these eight women artists.

I believe in the power of storytelling. When you spend time with someone’s work you get to know a lot about them and it’s always a pleasure to know what concerns artists are tackling and how they choose to portray them in their works. To get to see works by eight brilliant women at different points in their careers, juggling multiple hats and hopping continents, talking about their lives in the most beautiful visual ways, why would I not want to make those conversations seen and heard?

I tend to work with themes when I think of curating shows and this one stems from a very dear place for me that speaks to my own experiences as a woman, an artist, curator and an educator.

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