Artists abound all over the world but there are only a handful who layer their work with a symbolism and meaning that speaks to the soul. Faiza Butt recently showed in London at the Grosvenor Gallery and is a 21st Century talent making centuries of culture her own.
Butt’s elaborate drawings hover between photography and embroidery. Born into a family of five sisters, gender- related themes are close to her heart. There is miniature style familiar to Asians.
In 1995, Butt was awarded a UNESCO-Aschberg Bursary, and was artist in residence at the Bartle Arts Trust (BAT) in Durban, South Africa. During this time, she held workshops for women from shantytowns, presented talks at museums and galleries and produced a solo show.
Her work has been exhibited at various art fairs, including Art Dubai and the Hong Kong Art Fair. Faiza Butt items are in the British Museum and public and private collections around the world.
Faiza’s mid career retrospect ‘Paracosm’ opened at the New Art Exchange in 2015 and travelled to the Universities of Essex and Leeds.
In June 2017 the installation was shown at the Royal Festival hall, London.
Faiza Butt was born in a moderate and progressive Lahore, Pakistan, in the 70s. During the early 80s, General Zia took over and “Islamization” began. “It made an impression on my childhood as my father was a liberal academic and he was critical of the state’s role in imposing religion,” Faiza says.
Art as a Career
Her BA Honours was from the National College of Arts, where she was awarded the Berger Gold Medal for outstanding student of the year. She holds a master’s degree in painting with a distinction from the Slade School of Fine Art, and a teaching certificate from the Institute of Education.
Faiza Butt feels, “I was fated to be an artist. From an early age I displayed the hallmarks of an artistically inclined mind, which my parents nurtured.”
Butt says she lived in a culturally rich environment. As a child, she was surrounded by books, art material, journals and encouraging parents. “I looked at life in detail and drew like an adult even as a child.” The matriarchal household influenced her.
Development of Technique and Style
“I developed the pointillistic technique during my years at the Slade School of Art, where I dismissed oil painting as a resistance towards Western Art history and developed a method rooted in the art history of my region.
Dictator Zia’s Islamic ‘reforms’ initiated the feminist movement in Pakistan as a reaction. My art responded to the feminist issues in Pakistan, and my earlier works mainly feature women.
Even if I use images of men, I am still discussing issues to do with gender.” One striking but soft male image - of a Muslim man from Afghanistan/NWFP, she explains, “references culture and assumptions. The images of men in my art may be from impoverished cultures; reference barbarism, yet they are ‘effeminate’ and delightful to look at.
The notion of threat and desirability co-exist in my representation of men.”
Working in India
“It was an honour and a joy to show in India. Pakistan was founded on the notion of Islam….yet it’s a diverse country in caste, sects, ethnicities and cultural variations. We had teething problems since Independence in establishing our identity, creating an interesting set of issues and problems. This forms a rich environment for artists from Pakistan. There are fewer art schools in Pakistan than in India. Generally the Pakistani art scene looks up to the Indian models and structures as a positive reference of growth.
Faiza Butt notes that art patronage in the West is established. She mentions icons like Damian Hirst and Tracey Emin and patrons like Charles Saatchi.
“The artists I admire most are those that reflect upon history and challenge set norms and traditions. My sympathies lean towards artists that are social commentators as well. I respect Kara Walker, Barbara Kruger, Judy Chicago, Grayson Perry, Steve Macqueen.
I tend to draw from issues not endorsed by state owned sources of information. Gender polemic and cross-cultural issues underpin my practise. Artists are not reformers but they can help raise awareness. The images in my art are like traps that audiences fall into. They are beautifully crafted, elaborately drawn images but once the on-looker is engaged it leads them towards confronting uncomfortable truths.”
“Being an artist is a rebellious act, a challenge. Being a woman, a parent, fighting for my right to practise remains the biggest challenge. Artists do not have salaries, nor does their work create the comforts of reliance and sustainability. Their rewards lie in appreciation and connection with a wider audience.”