Painting Identity

Published in Gallery (Dawn Group of Newspapers)  – Sepptember 8, 2007

By Ayesha Hoda
“I am obsessive about my painting career because I consider art to be a universal language. It may talk to different people in different ways but it does talk to everyone,” says artist Alvia A. Rahman, after two decades of her tryst with the paint brush.

Alvia is based in West Palm Beach, Florida. She took up painting in the late 1980s, after migrating to the US in 1985, to overcome boredom in an alien land. She not only fulfilled a lifelong desire and overcame feelings of loneliness but also discovered an excellent means to communicate with her American friends, colleagues and fellow artists, who were unable to appreciate her love for and written works in her mother tongue, Urdu.

In the annual, summer art festival, held at the Art & Cultural Centre of Royal Palm Beach last month, Alvia exhibited more than twenty of her paintings (some old ones and other recent ones). She received an overwhelming response, amidst numerous other local artists.

The exhibition did not follow a common theme or have a specific agenda other than providing a general platform. Each participating artist presented his or her own choice of subject-matter and style, from surreal and modern art to abstract artworks based on literary works (such as those of Ernest Hemingway) to portraiture of women; making way for an extremely diverse art show, though the emphasis was on painting rather than other art forms.

Alvia used watercolours as well as oil paints and acrylics. A lot of her work was based on the popular Islamic art form of calligraphy. Her style is sometimes delicate and precise and at other times, she forms the Arabic words in a free style. Her American (non-Muslim) audience’s admiration was candid; a number of these artworks were sold and some people even insisted on the inclusion of the meaning of the beautiful Arabic script (such as Allah Shaafi — Allah cures). They commented that it added to this resplendent art style.

Alvia’s fascination with nature was clearly reflected in a number of paintings dedicated to orchids and other flowers as well as those with birds and fruits.

Using colours extensively but intelligently, Alvia builds on what she sees in the environment or from pictures or photographs. Some of her other paintings are imaginative, developed from what was initially just careless scribbling. In some of the pieces, she has used her favourite styles — Mughal and Eastern Miniature.

Stressing on making art available to as many people as possible, her low prices were pronounced by some of her admirers as ‘insulting’ considering the amount of fascination that some of her works had generated.

Commenting on the wider picture of being a Pakistani artist in the US who promotes eastern and Islamic art, Alvia feels that her participation in this field, even without emphasis on social/political issues, provides an opportunity for the local people to see Pakistanis as people with varied interests and immense potential instead of the stereotypical religious fanatics.

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