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Portfolio: Under the glitz and glamour

Portfolio: Under the glitz and glamour

“There are only two styles of portrait painting, the serious and the smirk.” — Charles Dickens

A miniature painting should invite and stand up to close inspection in addition to holding its own from a distance. It should contain all the elements of a larger picture — good composition, balance, colour and, of course, fine brushwork. The smallest details are crucial to add depth, complexity and involvedness.

Recently Islamabad’s My Art World hosted an online solo show by Lahore-based miniature painter Heraa Khan. Although miniature in size, the works to be judged undertake a monumental and titanic stature. Her paintings shone with extraordinary beauty and one would only feel dazzled by her creative intensity and gem-like quality.

The show titled ‘Glazed’ bestows an impression of a fragment of the Pakistani society that dominates the multitudes as per the societal pyramid. Khan’s interpretation of this perception adds comicalness, cynicism and mockery to the series of intricately and flawlessly concentrated contemporary miniature paintings. There is an obvious frequent element in all her miniatures; the floral print could be a social commentary on consumerism or a replication of beauty one sees in gold and all that is fashionable.

Khan specialised in the traditional techniques of miniature painting after graduating from the National College of Arts, Lahore, in 2012. Her current show is about converting the conventional, technique-driven art form into a respective practice of art. The artist chronicles and captures portions and imprints from the selective portion of the society around her and reinterprets them into her work. Interestingly the underlying theme behind her work endeavours to go past the margins of Pakistan and is not a particular feature that prevails at home. This part of society relishes a lavish lifestyle — one that is far-fetched from reality.

Gold leaf and gouache are used in Khan’s miniatures to alter the skill driven art form of Mughal and Persian miniature into a more intimate form of art. Bright colours and patterns are palpable annotations of the materialistic lifestyle the women in Khan’s paintings lead. There is playfulness in the way she depicts her own manner of originality.

In pieces such as ‘Boudoir’ and ‘Summer breeze’ she illustrates that those who cannot look beyond their brazen way of existing pamper themselves in excessive narcissism and vanity. Underneath all the wealth, expensive clothing, exorbitant jewellery and makeup their lives are still lonely and empty. In ‘Steeped’ and ‘Tawdry’ the voluptuous female figure seems hollow and camouflaged with floral pattern in the background. They appear to have been swallowed by their own vanity, their self-worship and their pretension. Proficiently painted, her eye for detail is impeccable.

Khan’s solo exhibition is tightly rendered with fine detail, good composition and colour balance. She has the eye of a jeweller as she reveals her treasures to her audience.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, January 3rd, 2016

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