Naseeba Khader: Tulips, Ghararas and Wonder Woman
As soon as I entered Naseeba’s house I knew I had stepped into an artist’s lair. The tastefully decorated abode was a sight to behold. Various artistic creations adorned the walls. Our host welcomed us with a beautifully gracious smile. I had heard about Naseeba’s talents and had gone through her Instagram page, but the real-time opportunity of getting to know her as a person was a different experience altogether.
I flipped through the pages of her sketchbooks and saw one masterpiece after another. An old building in Port credit, Meena Kumari the legendary Bollywood personality, a pair of shoes next to a doormat. And even Wonder woman sporting a Hyderabadi outfit complete with an image of the Charminar in the background were some of the amazingly diverse sketches and paintings which greeted my eyes. So, I popped the first question.
The Link: Is there a conflict between Naseeba the artist and Naseeba the person
Naseeba: I don’t think so because I only draw what I want to draw. I might try to get inspiration from everyday objects if my heart fancies. I think my art is a part of me and I don’t separate the two. I do not like to make overly political statements either because I think opinions are a personal matter. Even though nowadays people like to use their art to propagate their agenda, I try not to do that. I understand there is a lot of negativity out there but I prefer to keep my creations positive. One of my cousins told me that when she sees my work, it makes her happy. I think this is one of the best compliments I had ever received. I want to add to the positive vibes around us. Sometimes I look at my Facebook feed and I get taken aback by what I read. I try never to read the public comments but sometimes something catches my eye and I do. And again, I am shocked by some of the things out there. It surprises me to see what kind of opinions people have and then they express them without any hesitation on public forums. Recently with the Quebec Mosque tragedy. I was worried about how people would react.
Thank God, most Canadians and others from all over the world were very supportive. But then there were a few who made really nasty comments. Those kind of things I know exist and I am not naïve or oblivious to all that but I want to stay away from negativity and choose to focus on the positive. Some people might think my work is shallow and frothy but I want to make people smile and bring happiness in their lives. That gives me pleasure.
The Link: Your family belongs to Hyderabad, India which was once the epicentre of culture, arts, and royalty at one time in history and still is. How much of Hyderabad is there in your work?
Naseeba: It is funny that you asked that. I was born in Brampton but my family moved to Scarborough. And when I was in grade six we moved to Markham so I grew up there. I was the only desi (of South – Asian descent) girl in the class. I was sometimes made fun of because of my skin colour. I did not want to be brown or Indian. I was afraid of my culture. I would never wear shalwar qameez when I went out. I was already a shy person and when I was made fun of because of something I could not change I distanced myself further from who I was. Then I switched schools in grade 8th and that was a game changer for me.
I was part of a multi cultural environment and my new friends were Indians, Pakistanis, Chinese and from other diverse backgrounds. Some of them are still very close to me. Slowly I became more comfortable with my Indian identity. I also visited India in 1990. I was able to meet my cousins and the rest of my family. I started watching more Bollywood movies and started identifying with that part of my heritage. Though I love all that but I also have a very tongue in cheek humour so I am very much aware of the quirky side of the desi culture.
The Link: Your work has a bit of Mughal miniature touch to it. The style, the black outlining, even the diminutive size. Is it intentional?
Naseeba: I never really noticed that. But if that is so it is a compliment for me. Ever since I was a child I loved to draw. I love colours but my favourite part still is the actual drawing. What I really enjoy is the free style sketching. So maybe that is why it reminded you of the miniature genre. Also I feel as I am getting older I find myself appreciating my culture more than I used to. There is so much creativity when I look at the South Asian sub continent. So much artistic talent. The craftspeople who create the beautiful clothes we wear, the every day tailors, the darzis, who do not have any formal training sometimes produce such masterpieces. But they never get the credit or are not paid enough. These skills run through generations, passed on from father to son and so on but this amazing work does not get recognition. You know I grew up here in Canada so I realized a bit later in life the immense wealth of the history and culture of where my family is originally from.
I must also add that being Canadian is also a big part of who I am. First of all, I see myself as a Muslim, that is why I love Islamic art and architecture. But you can see Canada in my work too, like these architectural illustrations. I love reading mystery books. In fact, I love reading in general so sometimes I get inspiration from that. I love clothes, I love fashion. I get inspired from all these facets of my personality.
The Link: I saw your Instagram posts the day after the Oscars and I found illustrations of what some stars wore on the red carpet and you just mentioned that you are interested in fashion. But do you think that can be classified as art?
Naseeba: Yes, I would call it art. I love colour and symmetry. Even though when I dress up myself I do not overdo it, I like to keep it simple. But I follow a lot of fashion illustrators on Instagram and they sometimes do amazing things. For example you mentioned the Oscars. Some artists illustrated some of the dresses the stars wore. I like to draw clothes because I like beauty and balance. I don’t want to draw something which would make anyone depressed or anything like that.
The Link: Let us talk about the collage you put together with a drawing and parts of a tulip flower.
Naseeba: I love flowers because they remind me of all the beauty God has created. I had bought tulips and as they started wilting I wanted to preserve them in some way. So I decided to draw something and then use parts of these flowers. I drew an image of a woman wearing a traditional gharara. I used the petals for the gharara and the stem and part of the leaves for the dupatta. And then my Mom had given me these shiny bits, I used them too. I gave this creation an ethnic twist because I wanted to represent my culture. This is the story behind this collage.
I have also done some formal training in calligraphy and it fascinates me immensely. I found out it is not as easy as it looks and that it requires a lot of patience and dedication. I would love to continue that too but mostly I just like to sit down and draw.
The Link: How do you balance your everyday life with your passion for creating art?
Naseeba: It has never been too much of a challenge. Sometimes I am watching the TV and I am drawing at the same time. If I am relaxing I would take out my sketchbook and again I would draw. Whenever I find time, I try to squeeze it in. I set my priorities and stick to them, so it works out well. My work helps me relieve stress. Then my friends, and my family are very supportive. When I made my work public it was a big thing and this support I got meant the world to me and made every step easier.
The Link: Where do you see yourself three years from now?
Naseeba: To tell you the truth I have no idea. I never expected my work to be this successful. I am so thankful to Allah for giving me these opportunities. I just want to use my art in a good and positive way, not just to make money. I don’t want it to become a business. To give you an example of how I want to use my art I will share an incident with you. One of my friends was doing some work for the Muslim community in Cuba. There was a need for donations in all forms and ways. I wanted to help. I told her that all I can do is draw, so she suggested that I draw colouring pages for the children. Luckily, I had images of masjids which I gave her and that was my contribution. So there are many ways art can make a difference. I must add that I realize this talent is a blessing from God, and I treat it with the respect it deserves. I do not take it for granted,
The Link: Tell us something about Naseeba the person.
Naseeba: First and foremost, I am a mother of two boys. I love them, they drive me crazy, but they keep my life interesting. The elder is eighteen and the younger is eleven. My husband is very supportive and appreciative of my work and so are my parents. My sister is one of my biggest fan. My mother can draw really well even though she has never done anything formally. One of her first cousins is also an artist. In the new generation, I have niece who likes to draw. I can safely say art runs in the family. You can see some of this talented artist’s work on her Instagram page: illustrations.by.nk
Though all of Naseeba’s work is breathtaking, I was especially moved by a sketch of Masjid ul Nabwi, (Mosque of the Prophet) in Madinah and one of Bait Ullah, (House of God) in Makkah, Saudi Arabia. Images recreated by a humble pilgrim, an obvious labour of love and devotion. She had already shared with me how moved she was after her Hajj pilgrimage and the visit to Madinah. These sketches bore testimony to that claim. As we stared in silence at the recreation of the famous green dome of the mosque in Madinah, I could see next to me eyes glistening with respect and gratitude for the Gracious giver of talents; and hands blessed with the remarkable ability to create.