Wardah Naeem Bukhari was born in Multan and lives and works in Lahore, Pakistan. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Graphic Design from Multan College of Arts, Bahauddin Zakariya University, Multan and later completed her education with a Master’s degree in Visual Arts from National College of Arts, Lahore and a PhD in Art History from Punjab University, PUCA, also in Lahore. She is a tenured faculty member of Graphic Design at Lahore College for Women University, Lahore.
In 2016 she was selected for the International Artist In Residence Program in Arthub, Arizona, USA; she has lectured on art topics at the South Asian Women Collective in New York and, as a representative from Pakistan, in Istanbul for the 21 Countries International Meeting.
Bukhari was guest curator of the first BQ Artist in Residence Program (2015) and is the author of two biographies for the Oxford Companion to Pakistani Art (2014) and articles in HEC-recognised journals (2021). In addition, she has participated in several international exhibitions and countless national exhibitions.
Her work’ Body in space’ has been selected for Material Thinking, the International Art Biennale scheduled for 2022 in Beijing.
In many of your works, you combine graphics and photography with thread and embroidery, transforming the work of Art into a space where tradition and modernity meet. What is the significance of this intertwining of techniques?
I called myself a digital artist because I trained as a graphic designer, so I started combing digital images using the Pattoli craft technique in my work. During my research on traditional jewelry, I also introduce with the intricate tradition of yarn work to tie necklaces called Pattoli craft, which is an ancient thread jewelry tradition that originated in the Indian subcontinent; it is a decorated threadwork that is used to embrace together expensive necklaces. Traditional thread made hair braids, thread tassels, azarband, tasbeeh and threads converted into bangles, necklaces and other traditional artefacts are extended to make works, which are objects of contemporary Art but are connected, to the female situation, world and limitation through these items. In my work, I intend to convey this content through a language that is poetic and pictorial.
My graduation is in graphic design from Multan College of Art, Bahauddin Zakariya University, in 2010. In my Masters in Visual Arts from the National College of Arts, Lahore, in 2012, I started looking at Pakistani Contemporary Art and found many interesting works. My favourite Pakistani artists are Jamil Baloch, Atif Khan, Ruby Chistee, Noor Ali chaghani and Yaseen Khan. The work of these artists includes the visual of local culture, regional craft, traditional technique and use of local materials with Pakistani narratives.
What reasons lead you to choose thread as an expressive medium?
Born in Multan in a middle-class home, these bazaars were a regular visit for my family and me because my mother teaches in a government school near sarafa bazaar. Those narrow streets were full of beautiful colourful threads. I usually collect those colourful threads and play all day. I was mesmerized from a very young age. I always wondered about this beautiful threadwork tiring with traditional jewelry; this fascination grew as I entered my college years and decided to get to the core of my aspiration.
The textile medium, in general, is associated with women’s activities. Is there an assertive component that emancipates these practices in using them to create works of Art?
I relate the thread as a metaphor for life and medium of self-expression. I can see the relation of thread with life, emotion, beauty and adornment. I cannot separate this material from myself. If this material is conceptually used as self-expression, why it cannot be used for art practice.
Punjab has a precious and ancient textile and decorative tradition, a cultural heritage that is, at the same time, a treasure and a burden. To what extent and how has your artistic practise been influenced or inspired by this long tradition? On the other hand, how difficult was it to find a different, personal form of expression?
My work relates to the blend and bridge between tradition and modernity. In my oeuvre, I seek to recreate, rediscover and reinterpret the traditional craft, especially textile and fabric art from my region, Southern Punjab. The centre of my interest always remains on the traditional craft of jewelry in my region. Colour has been a strong visual element in the traditional cultures, and so is the case with Southern Punjab. Bright, strong, pure and vivid hues mark the aesthetics of a people who live in the barren lands and in the desert. I plan to use the same color palette, which excites a viewer but has a deep cultural and spiritual meaning and significance.
What are the sources of inspiration from which your work arise?
The Source of inspiration for the series “braiding the seen and unseen” is inspired by the Kingman City of Arizona state. I used airplanes as a spirit because the spirit goes to the sky, and the planes as the same. I showed the culture of cowboys used to take guns. So I used guns, airplanes and cactus plants to decipher the visual language of the specific region. As a South Asian female artist from Pakistan, it was really shocking for me to see the cowboys taking guns freely even though they came to visit our art studios with guns. From childhood, I always heard that America is the superpower and has security rules, but my experience in Arizona during my first internationally residency was totally opposite. This Body of work is the visual diary of my travel to the United States.
What are the themes you investigate through your artistic research?
I work with different subject matters, concepts, mediums that take a diversity of forms. My intention is to recreate the existing image through new visual language by including different subject matters from identity to post-truth, craft to aesthetics, history to myth, tradition to new media arts, religion to politics. I seek to recreate, rediscover and reinterpret the critical dialogue of contemporary adaptation.
What does it mean to be an artist for you?
As a visual artist, when I travel for an artist residency from Pakistan to abroad, my focus is always to capture the culture of that region using my traditional technique of Pattoli craft to give my cultural expression as a Pakistani Artist.
Can you tell me about your last exhibition and the works you are working on in this period?
I fell in love with Arizona, the way the city, art, and history braid together when I went for my first international residency. While researching the city of Kingman and its culture, I discovered that Kingman was the first American Airbase in the United States. Surrounded by barren land and large cacti plants, the landscape was full of bright colors. Broken planes are buried throughout the city; cowboys used to come in studios with guns. The visual language is adopted from the region where myths overlap history.
What projects and dreams do you have for your future as an artist?
My dream project is to make large scale installations of traditional jewelry of my region and establish myself in South Asian Diaspora.