*Featured photo: Borrowed from the Shadows, steel wool and cotton wool, packed into an irregular 250-metre ‘rope’ of keffiyeh fabric, Dimensions variable
Saad Qureshi, born in 1986, is a British artist who lives and works between Oxford and London. He trained at Oxford Brookes University and later at The Slade School of Fine Art in London.
In his artistic practice, he experiments with various materials, including threads, textiles and paper, that he processes by applying textile techniques such as weaving.
Recent solo exhibitions include projects at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Wakefield, the Natura Morte Gallery, New Delhi, the Aicon Gallery, New York and the Gazelli Art House, London.
His works have been acquired in permanent private and public collections, including the Dipti Mathur Collection in California, the Farjam Foundation Collection in Dubai, the UNESCO Creative Cities Collection in Beijing and the Almarkhiya Gallery in Qatar. Qureshi was selected for a SkyArts LANDMARKS 2021 public art commission.
Memory, in its broadest sense – ancestral and personal -, a wealth of lived experiences that combine to define our identity in a process that lasts a lifetime, is one of the key themes of your artistic research. The dynamics through which we continuously model its contents but also the mechanisms through which the elements deposited there change shape over time and then influence who we are, are reflected in the works recently exhibited in the TANABANA exhibition. Can you tell me about this series of works? Why did you choose the weaving to make them? Does weaving also have a conceptual meaning in your opinion?
I would say that, conceptually, I have been weaving since I started making mindscapes in 2012. My sculptural mindscapes weave different stories, memories and fragments of landscapes together. We all “weave” when we tell stories.
My own family has a long professional as well as personal tradition in textiles. It was my grandfather’s profession, as a tailor for the British Army, that first brought my family from Pakistan to the UK, and my mother is herself an accomplished and passionate needleworker. This is a huge part of my creative heritage, but the Tanabana tapestries are the first time I’ve paid such clear and direct homage to it.
Lockdown is what gave me the opportunity, because I had to move my studio to our family home, where I was surrounded by all the important textiles and books I grew up with. I had to work on a smaller scale, without the mess of a dedicated studio space. I began by photographing these materials, cutting them in strips and re-weaving them into paper tapestries and bringing several patterns together to form completely new designs. In doing so, I found a way to bring my own skills as a maker into a dialogue with those of generations before me.
What does it mean for you to be an artist and how much are life and art intertwined in your personal experience?
For me, being an artist has never been an option or a job. I feel that it’s a lifestyle I was born into.
Everything flows from my lived experience; be it a conversation, a journey, something that captures my imagination and I want to go into more deeply.
What is the process that leads from the idea to the realization of your artworks? How do they develop from the inspiration?
My practice is very varied, and this is to accommodate two quite distinct ways of working.
On the one hand, I can start quite conventionally, with an idea for a work that I want to make. I let it simmer in the back of my mind until I sense the time has come to focus on it directly, and I ask myself questions about form and materials, and begin to experiment with them in order to find the best articulation of this original idea.
At other times, the work presents itself fully resolved: idea, method and materials… And then my job is to jump in, and make it. You “wake up to” the idea. Then you just do it.
What are the themes you investigate through your art? And what are the main sources of inspiration for your work?
The theme I keep coming back to is time and memory, and how they create the landscapes against which we live, be it internal or external. Hence the mindscapes.
Another rich seam is religion, particularly in the contemporary context: what it means, and how it’s relevant now.
I’m fortunate, in that I have what I call a “bank” of ideas that are always being replenished by my encounters with people, conversations, movies and places I visit. Inspiration is around me all the time.
What were the fundamental steps in your artistic career (who influenced your poetics, for example, or what role did the cultural heritage that each of us brings with us from childhood and from our background of origin, education, opportunities that have given an acceleration or made a decisive career change, etc.)?
I’ve mentioned my cultural heritage, and its enormous role in informing and inspiring my work. My family over the generations have been makers, driven by craftsmanship and a passion for perfecting their skills. My sensibility as an artist comes from there, as well as my poetics.
I also feel very fortunate in that I’ve been able to complement that with a formal training in British art institutions, which have helped me conceptualise my ideas and polish my professional approach.
I owe a great gratitude to Mrs Robinson, my high school art teacher, who saw my potential and encouraged me to take it further.
What do you imagine in your future?
The future is an interesting and ambiguous beast. I’m constantly surprised by what it brings, so I don’t try to imagine it. I just let it show me what comes next.