September 24, 2012

links to two of my poems

i am posting links to two of my poems. from 'swat' is an excerpt from the latter, which is a long poem divided into five sections, four of which were published in the journal of commonwealth writing's special issue: beyond geography: literature, politics and violence in pakistan. 

here is the excerpt: from 'swat'

the second poem is from an online journal, mahmag magazine of arts and humanities. it's not a new poem, having been written in 2001, but it was never published. i am beginning to realise that i have written some poems which are a direct response to political events after all! 

here is the poem: 9/11

this issue of mah mag is edited by shadab hashmi, who wrote the celebrated collection of poems the baker of tarifa, which won the 2011 san diego book award for poetry.

September 20, 2012

the world of writing

it's not every day that one reads a good, in-depth interview. so when i read kimberly nagy's interview of pakistani poet waqas khwaja, who worked as translation editor as well as contributing translator of a ground breaking anthology of modern pakistani poetry (modern poetry of pakistan), published last year by dalkey press, i was completely absorbed.

khwaja describes the niceties of translation and the raison d'etre to which he subscribed when translating himself as well as working with his group of translators. the published anthology is a collection of poems in several languages, all spoken in pakistan. the translation project itself was a major undertaking, the editor taking every possible step to remain faithful to certain basic precepts such as syntax, even if grammatical rules could not be maintained. beyond this he realised that translation is a delicate art, in which it's necessary to preserve the music and the meaning of the poem.

in accordance with the modern approach to translation (see, he often used several translators, after which he would edit based on his own and other experienced readers' views.

so far i've made it appear that the interview is about translation. but it isn't confined to that, it spans khwaja's career, as well as his work as a poet. 

click here to read the interview: interview of waqas khwaja

September 17, 2012

revisiting blind embossing

i learned about blind embossing during my first collagraph workshop, where it was used to 'test' the surface and textures of the new plate. at that time, i didn't see very much use for it, although i did finish one print by going over it with graphite rubbing. the technique called to mind embossing on paper using brass stencils, which i'd taught in my craft workshops. 

then i made a blind embossing of an old plate several years ago. it didn't quite turn out as a blind embossing, as some of the areas, which were quite deep, had retained ink despite what i thought was a thorough cleaning. that gave me the idea for the print that i made last week, illustrated below.

this print is a lino block which i have used repeatedly on silk and cotton lampshades, in conjunction with tea dyeing and sometimes paint washes. it's a tree of life motif, but it also illustrates one of my favourite quranic verses (you will find the text below, in translation by professor ahmed ali). so i've used it sometimes in conjuction with text, and sometimes simply as a tree of life. here, i used it on paper.

as you can see, the cuts have retained a certain amount of ink, so there are white areas and other areas which have printed brown. i rather liked the effect, and managed to get two good copies. the block was run through the press using pre-soaked somerset paper.

here is the english translation:'God is the light of the heavens and the earth. The semblance of His light is that of a niche in which is a lamp, the flame within a glass, the glass a glittering star as it were, lit with the oil of a blessed tree, the olive, neither of the East nor of the West, whose oil appears to light up even though fire touches it not, - light upon light.'

August 25, 2012

nathia gali in august: season of mist

yesterday i posted the last five pictures in this post. the ones i'm posting now are from last year's eid trip.

gravestone from the raj
old kalabagh cemetery
gravestone from the raj 
old kalabagh cemetery
after the rain, an afternoon 
view from shangrila pines hotel
view from shangrila pines 
hotel, afternoon after rain
hydrangeas in ursula's garden: a throwback 
to my childhood
cedars along the pipeline 
walk, dunga gali
tree trunk along the pipeline walk
another throwback to the 
raj: inscriptions along 
the pipeline walk, dunga gali
throwback to the raj: inscription along the 
pipeline walk, dunga gali
a rose from the shangrila pines garden
sunset after the rain, from 
shangrila pines garden
pines in the mist
this last photo, like many sunset photos, doesn't 
do justice to the reality. but here it is 
anyway: sunset after an afternoon of heavy rain.

August 13, 2012

documenting the process: revisiting the frescoes of wazir khan masjid: chapter 2

Decoupage being the art of cutting and pasting, I begin with a set of cut-outs. Having worked for over a decade, I now have envelopes of photographs (my own), and even ready-cut motifs, which are often left over after a project is complete, and which serve as inspiration for the next. Although I don’t repeat designs, I do use same or similar motifs in different projects. For instance, the Islamic tile motifs have been used many times, but the overall effect is different as I constantly add innovations, the most recent being carving into the surface of the project (see albums of past work for examples).

Many of my decoupage projects are commissions. They are very much an interactive process with the client, with whom I discuss design and colour scheme, and to whom I show the cuttings I have on hand. In the case of the chest of drawers, the client and I began with the set of cuttings shown in the first photograph of the enclosed slideshow.

Much of my decoupage is based on photography. Using semi-professional computer software, I alter colours and contrasts, or even change the colour scheme to black and white or sepia. I also crop pictures or cut and paste them to make different combinations. The border motif used on the chest, which is composed of white and peach flowers on a blue-turquoise ground, began as a single motif, made into a field of repeats by cutting and pasting. The resulting frieze was printed in two sizes. The full border was used on the front and sides, while a wider version was cut into half and used for the top. Similarly, some of the motifs used to embellish the drawers began life as half-motifs which were then mirrored to create a full motif, and blown up to make large versions.

I like to add to decoupage by using lino cuts. I already have a library of blocks in varying sizes, from very narrow 1 inch borders to five and six inch single motifs. But for this project, the most detailed large project that I have made so far, I cut a new set of blocks. All of them were inspired by motifs from the frescoes in the Wazir Khan Mosque in Lahore.

Cutting paper as well as lino takes several days, but that’s only the preliminary stage. It’s followed by priming and colouring the surface, in this case wood. For this chest of drawers, I painted the wood in solid colours where I planned to print full borders, and stained it with a wash in areas where I wanted the colour to fade into the natural wood. These areas were sanded back after they dried, to reveal the grain. I then applied sections of silver leaf in areas where I planned to use lino blocks. These were printed with pomegranate and lotus motifs. My lino prints usually feature double printing. I may do a double roll of colour so that the block is printed in two shades, and when it’s dry I may go over it with a third colour, or with a similar colour and a different block. For instance, the edges of the pomegranate and lotus motifs were overprinted with the border motif, using the same shade, to create a layering of motifs and textures. The border motif itself was printed with a double roll of white and pink, then partially over-printed in copper to allow the original colours to show through. As the design evolved, I used the copper colour and the border motif on the drawer fronts and the sides of the chest, using copper and silver inks. This printing is largely to create texture, and the motifs are only partially printed. 

The front of the chest was decorated with decoupage in the vertical sections, and lino printing in the horizontal ones. 

As with most art work, the process is an evolutionary one in which I keep looking at the work to see where I need to add or subtract. The drawers evolved after I finished the borders and lino printing on the front frame. Initially I planned to leave then unpainted, with a defined border in the groove on the front of each drawer. But when I assembled the piece after printing, I realized it would be better to give them a stain which began at the outer edges and faded towards the inner edges and the centre motif. The little silver rosebuds were very much an afterthought, to ‘lift’ the copper printing on blue-turquoise, and they were repeated on the top and sides, to bring the various, very diverse elements together. 

I seal the decoupage myself using a water based varnish, which is applied in several thin coats. This is followed by shellac. This is done by my assistant, as I now find varnishing such large projects difficult to handle alone. Shellac turns the wood darker; it also gave the turquoise a slightly yellowish tone.

What I aim for finally is a floating effect in which each layer is visible, achieved by varnishing the work over and over again.

here is the link to the slideshow that documents the process:

link to slideshow documenting the process

August 11, 2012

a decoupage project: revisiting the frescoes of wazir khan masjid

over the last month, i've worked on one of the most detailed decoupage projects that i've ever made: a large chest of drawers with decoupage, lino printing, metal leaf, and wood staining. here are some pictures of the completed project. in a few days i will put up an essay and a slideshow which will document the process, to give you an idea of how a project evolves. 

i don't know how the colours will come out on individual computers. the wood is stained in blue, teal and purple with a pink-red undertone. i know that in some of my own pictures i wasn't satisfied with the colour resolution. some of them were taken inside, and some outside; overall i found that some of the pictures had a dominant bluish tone while others have a predominantly yellowish tone. so there is already some colour distortion. the reality, as with much else in life, is somewhere in between!

front view. the horizontal 'frame' of the chest 
is first painted in blue shaded into teal, 
then lino printed in two stages: 
a double roll of white and peach-pink, 
and a partial overprinting in copper. 
the vertical parts of the frame are 
decoupage cuttings using photographs.

another front view
an 'aerial' view of the top. 
the centre features photos of frescoes, 
the borders are composed of photos 
made into a frieze, and the 
corners are metal leaf overprinted with lino blocks 
close up of lino printing, wood staining and 
printed highlights over the wood stain, 
after varnishing.

detail from the top of the chest

view of side panel. this picture was taken 
before varnishing, and before i painted
 the feet of the chest

July 5, 2012

april this year was a busy time, as i had an exhibition in Karachi. since life as a designer and writer involves a fair amount of work, and printmaking and poetry are my passions rather than my mainstay (i don't want my work to become commercial, although as an artist/writer selling is also important) i had to consciously take time out to finish the set of prints and artists' books that featured in the exhibition.  

here's a link to the gallery's album, which features my mono-prints and books, and Amena's work which featured birthing.

below are some images of the books. 

arizona sunset: accordion format book made up of 
collagraphs, silk thread, silver leaf and poem
arizona sunset, coloured version, medium as above
on memory: a set of mono prints
page 1, side 1 of on memory
side 2 of on memory
on memory, displayed at the art-chowk 
the gallery in april
jalebi: book in triptych form
with collagraph and poem

pakistani poetry in english: the vallum project

the cover of vallum
i haven't really talked about writing in any of my blog posts, so far, aside from including links to some of my articles.

i've been very lucky to have worked on several projects on pakistani poetry over the last few years, from editing to writing essays on pakistani poetry, conducting interviews of poets published in blue chip and newsline, and organising readings. most recently, i've worked on an editorial project with Blaine Marchand, an award winning Canadian poet who was posted in Islamabad for a few years. Blaine was keen to pitch the idea of an anthology of Pakistani poetry to a Canadian poetry journal, and suggested that we work on it together. the proposal was approved and we began work on it in 2010. Originally, we intended to include poetry translated from the vernacular as well as that written in English. but when we drafted a list of potential poets, we realised that just the latter would make a longer than book length collection.

the resulting anthology includes the work of 26 poets, some of whom live in Pakistan and some of whom belong to the diaspora. since funding for the journal comes partly from the Canadian Council for the Arts, it was necessary to represent several poets based in Canada. luckily for the project, perhaps not so lucky for Pakistan, several young poets have recently migrated to Canada, making our task much easier than we anticipated.

the journal went to print at the end of last year and is now available in Canada. the work has been enormously fulfilling, all the more because it was a pleasure to work with my co editor. i enclose the link to his essay on pakistani poetry in english, which is available online, and hope that readers will enjoy it.

Reading Pakistan by Blaine Marchand, Guest Editor (Exclusive Online-Only essay)

follow this link below to hear waqas khwaja reading his poem triptych (featured in vallum). waqas khwaja is also the translation editor of modern poetry of pakistan, an anthology of poetry in the vernacular. 

July 3, 2012

choosing blocks

here are pictures from a rather hot but pleasurable morning, spent choosing antique blocks to be added to my 'library.' i was lucky to have my daughter mehrunnisa with me, to take pictures. 

about blocks: they are carved out of shisham, or rosewood, and range from filgree borders to heavier motifs, both of which are featured in the photographs. traditionally they were used for multiple purposes, from making block printed sheets, table coverings, chaddar, dupatta and suiting materials, to marking out designs for hand embroiderers.

assessing designs, difficult when you
 are faced with a huge box of them!
a filigree block. i enjoy working with blocks that
have an irregular edge, such as this one
my daughter mehrunnisa,
reflected in the mirror in the stairway
shortlisting the blocks
looking at the possibilities for
combining different designs
my final choice
with ghafur khudaybirdigh and nadia in the office at pak turk enterprises
blocks as stored at the block printer's
some of my blocks,
stored rather differently in my studio
one of my favourite filigree blocks

a block printing demo

pinning the cloth to the work surface
measurement and placement:
two very important elements!
checking placement
applying dye to the frame in preparation for printing
applying dye to the block
printing the block: this requires
masking an area to print part of a block rather
than the whole
printing the masked area
the finished print, with line-up
marks still visible