From the beginnings of the genre until today, miniatures have been integrally associated with specific techniques, a diminished format and a reduced scale. The history of miniature art has its origins in multiple precedents that have evolved into a new genre and this art form continues to adapt and transform over time.
Hira Zubair Ghakhar is a Lahore based Miniature Artist who graduated in Fine Arts from NCA in 2010 and then also obtained her Masters in Interior Design from NCA in 2015. She won the Haji Sharif Miniature Award in 2010 Since then, Hira has exhibited his work in numerous national and international exhibitions. She was selected as a miniature artist from Pakistan in two international miniature festivals – one in Istanbul Turkey (2012-2016) and the other being the international miniature festival in Algeria (2012). In 2017, she participated in the international art exhibition in Bursa, Turkey, titled “Migration and Empathy”, curated by Reyhani Akan, a Turkish visual artist. Hira’s work is exhibited in the permanent collection of the Bursa Metropolitan Municipality Migration History Museum. At the same time, in 2020, Hira was selected for the 5th Zervas Art symposium in Paris. In 2018, she had her first solo show “Let your soul blossom” in Karachi and recently she had her second solo exhibition “Dimensions of Soul” curated by Humayun Mamon at Art Chowk Gallery, Karachi. This week you! talks to artist to artist about his work and the inspiration behind it…
You! What prompted you to get into art?
Hira Zubair Ghakhar: I have always been a very calm person. I speak less and observe more in life. I have been drawing and painting since the age of seven. I loved doing different kinds of arts and crafts. During school and college, I was not very good at studying, just an average student. I always knew that I was going to pursue a career in art, so I continued to participate in artistic activities. My parents were opposed to it but I pushed myself to obtain an admission in NCA. I had to do a lot of persuading before they finally allowed me to pursue Fine Arts.
NCA has two campuses, Lahore and Rawalpindi. It’s hard to get admission, but I was shortlisted for both. Since my family moved to Islamabad, so I enrolled in Rawalpindi campus for Bachelor of Fine Arts (2007-2010). And that’s how my artistic career began!
You! What is miniature art and what inspired you to focus on miniature painting?
HZG: Miniature painting is a traditional style of art that is highly detailed and painted on a smooth surface on a small scale. It captures events to document them for books or scrapbooks. There are different types of miniature styles such as Persian, Mughal and Indian miniature which are very popular. The technique of miniature painting is very different. There are many steps like preparing the surface, colors and their brushes (made from squirrel tail). The cleanliness of the work is a very important aspect when it comes to painting the details. All of this really inspired me to choose miniature as my major.
You! How many exhibitions have you participated in so far?
HZG: I participated in more than 20 local exhibitions and about 5-6 international exhibitions.
You! What was your most exciting exhibition?
HZG: My solo exhibition ‘Dimensions of soul’, held in December 2021, at Art Chowk gallery. The exhibition was curated by Humayun Mamon and gallery owner Shakira Masood. And manager Zeeshan Ahmed did a great job organizing it all. The theme of the exhibition was spirituality and its growth. The strength of spirituality involves our ability to dig deep and find the greatest meanings in life, to align ourselves with a purpose beyond ourselves to find unity in the universe. It described our human connection with God and how we can align our mind, body, and soul.
You! What kind of mediums do you use to create art?
HZG: I use a miniature painting surface called wasli. I use sheets of arches, gouache paints. But first I prepare the colors of the shell, original gold leaf according to the composition of my painting.
You! What is the inspiration behind your work?
HZG: I am inspired by the Persian miniature because it is very close to nature. Persian paintings depict different themes such as court scenes, angels, hills, forests, valleys, deserts, animals, birds, etc. I feel very connected to Persian trees, rocks and different types of flowers.
You! What makes miniature painting interesting, how is it different from other traditional arts, like calligraphy or tezhib?
HZG: It’s on a small scale and there’s attention to the small details of the objects. Traditional art is a combination of miniature painting and calligraphy. It was used to decorate manuscripts such as making borders using gold, silver, and miniature artwork.
You! How do you find your composition?
HZG: I am very imaginative. I take my thoughts and convert them into images. I explore my subconscious looking for illusions according to my theme and concept and sometimes I start directly on my painting surface.
You! Is there an element in your art that you appreciate the most?
HZG: My work is based on natural elements like flowers and trees, and I feel very connected to nature. I make angles in my work that only I can feel and imagine but cannot see in real life. I love painting them in my work, as you can see in the paintings ‘Blessings Along The Way’ and ‘Deeper And Deeper’.
You! What is the hardest part of your job?
HZG: The hardest painting I did was ‘Rebirth’. Creating 3D depth layers took a lot of time – from cutting, creating the oval shapes to painting and creating patterns.
You! Is there one of your works of which you are most proud?
HZG: In the painting ‘The Power of Imagination’, I used a gold-plated bronze frame. It was a very different job. I did a separate painting to fit the bronze frame in the center.
You! What don’t you like about the art world?
HZG: Everything is now digitized and technology is taking over human skills, which affects the art world.
You! How do people receive your work?
HZG: I get compliments on how I express myself through nature, the elements, color selections and compositions. The concept of my work is based on spirituality – the alignment of mind, body and soul. It makes people think about themselves.
You! Who is your favorite artist?
HZG: I love the work of miniature artist Aisha Khalid.
You! Do you travel to gain knowledge or get inspiration for your work?
HZG: Travel is great for inspiration. I visited many countries related to my work and participated in several international exhibitions. I also gave miniature workshops to artists and students from different countries.
You! Which place inspires you the most?
HZG: I like historical places, forest and hilly resorts.
You! According to you, how would you define surrealist art?
HZG: Surrealist art is like “cleaning the dust from their subconscious mind”, a higher level of work.
You! What is your artistic vision of life?
HZG: Following my passion to work hard and create a unique variety of work.
You! What is the importance of gallery representation today even if the artist can market it himself?
HZG: The galleries are professional. They can provide many benefits and services that give the artist visibility. The biggest advantage of exhibiting your work there is to bring together an audience, clients and art lovers.
You! Do you think the art scene has changed in the last ten years?
HZG: Yes, this is changing all over the world. Galleries define their boundaries, each gallery has its own artists and buyers; sometimes it’s hard to get a show.
You! What is the most important advice you can give to young artists?
HZG: If your work is good, expand your social circle.
You! What are your future plans?
HZG: I would quote Eleanor Roosevelt, “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”