Soraya Sikander’s work titled Still Life in Blue.
Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer
Soraya Sikander is a critically acclaimed, award-winning contemporary South Asian artist known for her landscapes and organic forms. Born to an Indian father and Pakistani mother, she is well-travelled – the diversity is reflected in her art. Her paintings depict the landscapes of countries she has visited and of her hometowns, Lahore and Karachi. Working in oil and acrylics on canvas, Sikander is renowned for inventing her pioneering “Calligraphy Landscapes”.
Calligraphy landscape combines elements of Islamic calligraphy, particularly the letter ‘Alif’ to create slim, silhouette trees, akin to mangroves, set against the dramatic, tonal backdrop of Pakistani landscapes. The paintings reference actual locations, describing the idea of being at a place - as seen through the mind’s eye.
She trained in fine arts through the London Atelier of Representational Arts, and University College London’s Slade summer school. So far, she has held over twenty four international group and solo exhibitions at galleries and museums worldwide and her paintings have featured in international auctions, including Bonhams. She is also a TEDx art speaker.
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“My work is an exploration of the natural world in various forms,” she says. “Through arabesque, rhythm and experiments with Arabic Calligraphy forms, I interpret landscapes that I have known – seen through the mind’s eye – suggesting an inner world. “My paintings reference my observations of the relationship and clash between what has been organically created and what is man-made. The intrinsic inter-connectedness between the visible and the invisible is an integral part of my world view. My approach is constantly evolving; redefining and reinterpreting classic subject matter, such as landscapes, seascapes, still lifes, patterns and calligraphy, in methods that challenge historical traditions and vary between bodies of work.”
Her art draws from memories, travel and heritage. At the point of applying paint, all sorts of elements come into play. Her work captures the complexities of the process of development, since, according to her, “there is nothing tame or settled about the natural world.”
She points out that the growth of a flower involves big elemental forces, including chemistry and carbon. She arrives at landscape through ecology, since it is the holistic meaning that interests her and not just the surface appearance. “I am equally interested in how landscapes evolve,” she says. “Be it the sky or clouds, or the clouds scattering dynamically. By experimenting both with subject and meaning, my works continue to develop the relationship between landscape and form, colour and light.”
“For me,” she underlines, “painting serves as a portal. A gateway between our world and another. As we study a painting, its story begins to unravel in front of us, we discover its meaning, it activates the imagination, engages the viewer and educates us. “Painting is by its nature a solitary activity. Far away from the razzle, dazzle, and the frantic hustle of now. For fine art is not part of the fleeting frenzy, but transcends time, language, culture, borders, and other man-made barriers.”
Her painting ‘The Sea’ was auctioned successfully by leading British Fine Art auctioneer Bonhams London and she partnered with The Citizens Foundation USA to raise funds for flood affected victims in Pakistan. She is involved in a number of charity projects and philanthropic causes, raising funds for healthcare for the underprivileged via Rotary International. Sikander is a keen reader of art history and is inspired by Indian and Pakistani classical master artists. She trained in drawing extensively over the years, sketching live models in the UK before launching her signature style. She has exhibited her works extensively at galleries internationally. Her recent art collection was displayed at the National Art Gallery of Moldova and National Museum of Beijing. Sikander lives and works in Dubai.
Soraya Sikander on Art
Great art is not about now; classical fine art masterpieces that have endured for all times can take you to a place where you feel eons rolling by. It is a gateway between our world and the unknown. Art has the ability to transcend boundaries. I believe that through painting, one can discover the secret portal that opens on to the thresholds of eternity. Art is the most authentic expression of human activity and subjectivity, set against the sterile irony and the sense of trivial pursuits that infests our modern culture. In recorded human history and the collective history of the world, images of nature made us ‘feel’ deeply.
This has now been replaced by a largely man-made, mechanical world, and we are swarmed by dozens of images each second; these are mass produced and reproduced, distributed and circulated through electronic mediums and lack meaning. However, with art that is handmade, the human eye scans it to understand its meaning, its stories, narration, and context, we become curious about the use of the medium, sensitive to the strokes and seeing the handwork of the artist. Practicing any art form, be it painting, drawing, sculpting, singing or dancing, has a way of connecting us to a higher power, realising a larger purpose, seeing the bigger picture, reaching for the unknown; it is also a deeply humanising experience. Art makes us complete human beings; it tells the stories of our journey on planet earth, our collective history, the ins and outs of life and what makes us human beings.
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