Restore the Boundaries II | South Kensington | charcoal, conte and acrylic on fabriano paper | 149.9 x 200.7 cm
“[Khan] has charted an exemplary independent path among the shifting currents of contemporary Pakistani art, producing an extended body of work exploring the sensuality of the female body, but also its weight, its opacity, and its recalcitrance in relation to the social order.”
Iftikhar Dadi, art historian
Naiza Khan’s paintings, drawings and photographs seem to live in that tense, dynamic space between heavy and light, between hardness and grace, between confinement and liberation. That tension is ephemeral: There is something of photographer Cartier-Bresson’s “decisive moment” in Khan’s work. One feels it had to be delicately subdued, like catching a butterfly by its wings.
Such ephemeral tension can seem effortless; her process, however, is painstaking. "I have learned through a lot of pain at losing work that you have to work very, very slowly, and really look at the work […],” the Pakistani artist has said. “Through the act of looking, it starts to gain coherence.”
Her paintings, drawings and sculptures began as a strategy to explore the emotional and social contexts of the female form—especially poignant within a cultural milieu and a state apparatus that can be authoritarian and paternalistic. In her work, female bodies are in turns caressed and restrained by lingerie, bodices and ambiguously-purposed straps and lace. Bodies are implied but absent in empty husks of polished armor, zippered chastity belts and metal, cage-like corsets. They are sexy, yet disruptive.
“The use of clothing in my work began as a strategy to explore the emotional content of the body through attire,” Khan has explained. “Lingerie, armor, straightjackets, and other imagined pieces create multiple identities of personae. These objects address contemporary anxieties and desires at a time when ideas about the ‘self’ seem unstable and rapidly shifting.”
Khan was born in Bahawalpur, in the Punjabi region of Pakistan. From 1986-87, she studied at the Wimbledon School of Art, in the U.K., then went on to receive her BFA in printmaking and painting from the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art at the University of Oxford. In the last decade she has shown work in group exhibitions like Art Dubai, the Pulse Art Fair, in Miami, the Cairo Biennial, the inaugural exhibition at the National Art Gallery, in Islamabad, at the National Gallery of Modern Art, in Mumbai, and in other shows in New York, London, Berlin and elsewhere. She lives and works in Karachi, Pakistan.