"I am surrounded by so much creative energy"
In Pakistan’s rich cultural landscape, a dynamic and diverse community of visual artists emerges, weaving together tales of creativity, tradition and innovation.
For several contemporary Pakistani artists, there is a lot of freedom to express themselves through their art.
This article embarks on a journey through the kaleidoscopic world of Pakistani visual artists, each brushstroke and pixel reflecting a unique perspective that transcends borders and captivates the global art scene.
We delve into the inspiring narratives, techniques and influences that define the visual arts in Pakistan.
Join us as we celebrate the brilliance, resilience and boundless creativity of Pakistani visual artists, painting a vivid picture of a thriving artistic community.
A designer passionate about user experience, Shehzil Malik actively explores the impact of design on driving social change.
Her notable work includes vivid illustrations highlighting the pervasive issue of harassment faced by women in public spaces in Pakistan.
Through her sketches, she effectively portrays the intensity of the male gaze and its scrutiny of a woman’s appearance.
She says: “I would walk outside every day and go to my park and it was just getting very uncomfortable to be in that public space.
“And this image was basically exactly how I was feeling at the time.”
“I would worry about what I was looking like, I was worrying about other people and I was like — I don’t know if others are realising the impact they are having on my internal situation, just going for a walk.”
Engaging in extensive consultancy with nonprofits and collaborative projects, Shehzil contributes significantly to social causes.
Moreover, she was responsible for creating the official poster for the Disney+ series Ms Marvel.
Illusionist, conjurer and artist Salman Sajun is based in Montreal, Canada.
Specialising in the seamless integration of stop motion and live action to infuse life into inanimate objects, he describes his craft as being “inspired by the power of using raw, physical elements to narrate a story”.
Salman accomplishes all his visual effects directly through the camera, aiming to convey an authentic and genuine experience shaped by a global perspective, diverse background, and comprehensive training in Concept Art in Toronto.
In his role as a director, Salman has produced numerous commercials and short films for clients worldwide, including the likes of Google, Universal Studios, Pearson and En Mass.
On what inspires him, the visual artist says:
“I’m easily inspired! I am surrounded by so much creative energy that it’s hard not to be constantly motivated.
“The city I live in plays a big part; your environment surely influences you and currently, Montreal has been an awesome inspiration.
“I have a list of blogs and websites that I follow on a daily basis to help keep ideas flowing and to see what my favourite directors/filmmakers/designers and the community, in general, is up to.”
Based in Karachi, Samya Arif explores various artistic mediums.
Since graduating from the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture in 2010, she has transitioned from a graphic design background to focus on visual art and illustration, particularly in album cover art and diverse illustration projects.
Beyond her contributions to music acts, Samya is a multifaceted member of the electronic music collective, Forever South, serving as an artist, designer and DJ.
In a New York Times interview, she said:
“In a way, psychedelic culture is very close to Pakistan’s culture.”
“We have a lot of colour, in our patterns, in our textiles, our monuments, so the bridge is there for me to connect both things.
“As a child, I saw a film about hippies in America and I don’t think I ever got over it. I often think about the Hippie Trail, and how so many hippies travelled all the way to Pakistan.”
Rahema Alem, known by the pseudonym “Butterflies are cockroaches with wings”, specialises in graphic design.
She utilises pixel art, motion graphics, illustrations and logos to craft a vibrant and abstract visual experience.
Through her unique “game art” approach, she presents a fresh perspective on Lahore, transforming familiar scenes from the city into nostalgic pixel art series that breathe new life into our perception of the urban environment.
Rahema is also responsible for creating the logo for Forever South, an experimental dance label based in Karachi.
Visual artist Babrus Khan grew up drawing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or comic book panels.
He says: “People always told me my drawings were better than most.
“When I finished college, I had to look around for work due to some family conditions. I use to learn 3D Studio Max at that time via the internet, so I landed a small job as an animator.
“This one time I was asked to watch over a rendering process overnight at work, and I was drawing to kill time, when my boss from then saw what I had drawn.
“That’s when he told me I had skill, and moved me to the art direction department the next day.”
He believes art chose him and it was when he was tasked with designing a character for a product.
Babrus said: “I then wanted to draw my own characters so I started working on personal projects, which helped me understand and study characters.
“At one point, I realised that all of my characters are quite dark and similar to my other works, so I wanted to change that, and I ended up experimenting with art styles and eventually developing something of a signature style.
“That’s when people started pointing at my work, saying, ‘This artwork looks like something Babrus would do, it’s his style’.”
Naiha Raza is a visual artist with a strong inclination towards game art and development.
She has contributed to the success of several acclaimed games, including Fruit Ninja, Blades of Battle, Order of Elements and Jetpack Joyride.
Her work has garnered recognition from esteemed artists such as Tom Woodruff Jr, who is known for his work on the likes of The Terminator and Jurassic Park.
Notably, one of Naiha’s pieces was selected for live drawing by the talented Artgerm, the co-founder of Imaginary Friends Studios, based in Singapore.
On her artistic process, she says:
“I believe that digital is a new and more acceptable medium for professionals, especially in the production industry, where quick paintings are required.
“Traditional media is also rewarding, but to actually build a career in games, digital is the way to go.”
Visual artist Zain Naqvi is responsible for Sparrow at Heart, which was released in 2016 and is potentially Pakistan’s first graphic novel.
The design of the graphic novel was partially inspired by Dave McKean’s work in Arkham Asylum and Todd Klein’s lettering in Sandman.
It was launched at the Lahore Literary Festival by Messy Squares, a publication Zain co-founded, with a focus on graphic novels and comics produced locally in Pakistan.
Based in Lahore, Zain has a Bachelor’s Degree from the National College of Arts.
He is also currently visiting faculty at Beaconhouse National University.
The thriving landscape of Pakistani visual art is experiencing a transformative surge, with artists making a significant impact both nationally and globally.
The dynamic fusion of traditional influences and contemporary expressions has given rise to a diverse and compelling body of work that resonates with audiences worldwide.
Through their unique perspectives and innovative approaches, Pakistani visual artists are shaping the narrative of their own cultural identity but also contributing to the global dialogue on art and creativity.
These artists are not just creators but also cultural ambassadors, bridging gaps and fostering understanding.
The impact of their work extends beyond the confines of galleries and exhibitions, touching hearts, challenging perceptions and fostering a sense of pride among fellow Pakistanis.