Please tell us about your foray into the field of art and painting? How did it all begin for you?
I hail from Hyderabad, Sindh. So before I joined the National College of Arts, I was always drawn towards, painting and drawing at home. I was always into crafts since childhood. I remember when I was child, I was always writing children's short stories. (Laughs), which always made their way into newspapers' weekend supplements. My Arts Teacher in school was a graduate of Sir JJ Institute of Applied Art. I still remember name - AKB Sheikh. So Sheikh sahib was always appreciative of whatever I produced in art class. He was always supporting me a lot. Even at home, my parents supported me immensely. So after my FSc, when it was time to opt for a professional choice of subjects, I told my father I wanted to opt for the field of art. Surprisingly, my parents supported me in this decision of mine. It was surprising because it was that time, when parents either wanted their children to become engineers or go towards the medical side. So I remember telling them that I wanted to be an artist and wanted to apply at NCA. One of my uncles had told me about NCA when he noticed that I was really into it. So my father took me all the way to Lahore and showed me the institution. And it was then, when he asked me, "Do you really want to be an artist?" So I replied with a "yes". So I took admission there. I perceived NCA as a place where one could explore and discover one's self. You get to know those facets to your personality, which you weren't even aware of yourself. It truly gives you an environment where you could work and think independently as an artist. It's an amazing place to become a professional artist. And to be situated in Lahore adds to its appeal. Anwar Saeed, Afshar Malik and Saeed Akhtar were some of my favourite teachers, under whom I discovered a brand new world!
You have been a part of many international exhibitions as well. Tell us about your most memorable experience.
Sharjah Biennial 2011 when I presented my installation Blessings Upon the Land of My Love. The way it was recognised was a major shift in my practise of art. The audience themselves were a melting pot of various diverse ethnicities like Asians, Arabs, Pakistanis, Europeans, Americans, Australians and Japanese. The way all of these people responded to my work was an amazing experience for me. I saw the audience moved to the extent that were crying because of what I had created. They told me that I had emotionally moved them. They kept staring at it for long and were just spell bound. That was the first time I realised how impactful and strong a force art could be. So without a doubt, that was an amazing and truly a memorable experience for me. So the jury presented me with the top prize, which was handed over to me by Sultan bin Muhammad Al-Qasimi on the opening night. The hype that work created was immense. Even right now, when seminar or lectures on art are being held, the images of that work are used as part of various presentations. That work was a major turning point. Other than this one experience, there are others too which I've felt at various exhibitions of mine.
You are a prominent award-winning artist. What according to you has been your biggest achievement to date?
I have won many awards till date. I won the Deutsche Bank Award in 2013, the Sharjah Biennial 2011 award and the US State Department Award recently that was the Medal of Arts Award 2017 given to me in January. So all these awards are achievements of mine, but the Sharjah award experience where I witnessed people being moved by my work truly felt like an achievement. I've had the privilege to move people like that through my other works as well where audience have felt a connection with my work, understood it and responded to it. That has really felt like an achievement and it has happened at a lot of places. That gives strength to my work and justifies other things. I consider myself very lucky in this regard because everything during my artistic career has happened step by step for me. Nothing has happened all of a sudden or immediately. At every stage when I experienced success, I felt as if it was the biggest thing that could have happened to me. But in future I experienced bigger awards and bigger honours. So it was easy for me to digest everything because its impact and scale was so big that it was often hard for me to respond, react or behave. So the fact that things have happened step by step for me, I consider myself lucky.
There have also been days when I have not felt like working for three days at a stretch. It's all about the push and the inspiration. You can't force art out from you. Forced art is always evident in your work; it can't stay hidden
Who are some of the artists that you've grown up admiring the most?
My fellow artists at NCA and of course my teachers were some who I really admired for their inspiring work. But after graduating, I saw David Hockney's work. I loved the playfulness to his drawings and mixed media. I saw a freedom of using this medium in his art. The fun and flavour in his work was very inspiring for me. Secondly, I deeply admired Frida Kahlo's work, which was very inspiring. There was a strong emotional side to it. It was full of pain and personal narrative. And the way she put forth that narrative was very relatable. The visual impact in her work was similar to our truck art imagery, which she fused in her work as a background in the form of vocabulary. So I learned how to contemporarise miniature work through that which was fun and historical while reviving her work. I found it connective and inspiring.
Art and painting must involve a lot of focus and concentration. How do you maintain that focus in today's age of constant ringing phones and the need to be active on social media?
If I'm really involved into producing something, then nothing disturbs me, no matter what is happening around me. There are times when I have put music while working and sometimes even change my position. I'm very flexible like that so nothing bothers me because I pursue my creativity with utmost obsession. There have been days when I haven't slept for two nights at a stretch because I can't stop myself from working. And there have also been days when I have not felt like working for three days at a stretch. It's all about the push and the inspiration. You can't force art out from you. Forced art is always evident in your work; it can't stay hidden.
What are you currently working on?
Currently, I'm working on a huge mural project, which is for the newly built Islamabad international airport. It's opening soon. The work on it is just about to be finished and is in its final stages. It's a huge mural - 12ft high and 200ft long. The exciting part is that they are basically two murals. One is done by me and the other by my wife Ayesha Khalid who also is a great artist. So we both are doing the same size murals for Departure halls. She is doing for the International departure and I'm doing for Domestic departure. The best part is that it's Ayesha's and mine first permanent public art project and it’s huge and massive. The pace with which it's nearing its completion, is very exciting and to have such a project in Pakistan is amazing.
What is your vision for Pakistan and what does it mean to be Pakistani for you?
I wish to see a Pakistan where there is acceptance and tolerance in every which way to understand people and their point of views to give them space. Only then we can march ahead and be progressive.
We at Daily Times consider you one of our national heroes. Who are some of yours?
There are so many people in so many fields who can be called heroes. You know in Pakistan, if I see someone driving correctly and responsibly, I really find that person exemplary. Or if I see a person keeping his surroundings spick and span, that person is truly a hero or even someone following the rules is a hero for me. I find heroes in ordinary people and it fills me with happiness to see them doing their work in silence. Probably not just me, I'm sure others around them must feel positive about such people as well.
Artist Imran Qureshi has participated at many exhibitions worldwide and has also won awards for his work. The exhibitions in which he has participated include Admit One Gallery, New York and Corvi Mora Gallery, London. In 2013, Imran Qureshi was invited to work for the Metropolitan Museum of Art and was awarded the Deutsche Bank Award for Artist of the Year. In 2016, the result of his first London commission was the subject of an exhibition at The Barbican Centre's The Curve gallery.
HONOURED AT HOME
The National College of Arts, from where Qureshi has graduated from, held an event in Berlin to honour Imran for his award he won in 2013. He has been commissioned by the government to work on a massive mural at the newly built Islamabad international airport for its domestic departure lounge.
Published in Daily Times, August 10th 2017.