Alia Bilgrami
18 November – 27 November, 2014

Bilgrami currently works as Curator for Khaas Art Gallery, Islamabad. She continues her own visual practice and exhibits both locally and internationally. She mostly works with drawing, photography and contemporary miniature painting, often combining various labour intensive media. She has experience in teaching art and regularly writes online art reviews. She has also been published in local print magazines in Pakistan. Future significant exhibitions include an upcoming Solo Exhibition at Koel Gallery, Karachi in November(2014).

Recent achievements include participation in an Artist’s Residency Program inAsilo Infantile Beatrice,Atina, Italy in August (2014). The residency culminated in two exhibitions ? Sant’AmbrogiosulGarliano and Palazzo Cantelmo, Atina, Italy. Of note are group shows in 2013 such as ‘Rough Around the Edges,’Hanmi Gallery, London and ‘Concrete Mirrors,’ The Crypt Gallery, London. As well as ‘Left Behind’ three person show and ‘Mein’ group exhibit with 85 artists, all at Koel Gallery, Karachi (2012). Her first solo show, ‘Tulipmania,’ took place at Rohtas Gallery, Islamabad (2011) that included a collection of contemporary miniatures and analogue photography?which she experimented with after completing her MA in Fine Art from Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design, London (2010). Whilst there, she received the Cecil Collins Memorial Award for drawing and was part of ‘Nothing to be Done’ group exhibit at Empire Gallery, London (2010). Bilgrami was part of two two-person shows in Islamabad (2009); ‘Painting with the Moon’ at Nomad Gallery and another at Khaas Art Gallery. She undertook a Curatorial Research Internship at the Freer &Sackler Galleries, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC in 2008. She was also Assistant Curator at Rohtas Gallery, Islamabad that same year. She completed her BFA from Indus Valley School of Art & Architecture, Karachi, Pakistan in 2007.

Bilgrami currently lives, practices and works in Islamabad, Pakistan.


Out of the Forest is an exploration of natural forms, textures and strengths. An underlying sense of displacement continues through the work as my previous trajectory of imagery seeps through in the shape of architectural spaces, maps and the tulip. Through various media ? cyanotype photograms, found objects, paintings, miniatures, collageand drawings ?the work seeks to question how nature strikes a balance in creating forms that are both delicate yet resilient. The tulip, used formerly as an icon to represent displacement is now explored further as a symbol of femininity and for the beauty in the form itself.

The main focus of this exhibition is, however, a form far less feminine. The pinecone is harsh and jagged but at the same time, also resembles a flower. Pinecones are intriguing natural forms that are perfectly symmetrical and show Fibonacci numbers in their spirals. In an attempt to understand their structure better, I put their strength to the test and tried to break a few of them down by pulling the segments apart. It certainly was not easy ? these fascinating wooden flowers are surprisingly resilient and unrelenting!

This led me to discover the beginning of my next project which has also been lightly touched upon in this exhibition ? drawing a parallel between nature and the strength of a woman, who may appear to be beautiful and delicate but on closer inspection, there is a lot more to her than just that. Underneath the facade, there is a quiet strength. The pinecone is a prime example of this comparison. Out of the Forest speaks of elements from nature that manifest themselves into human personalities. The inspiration behind these works lie with the strength of nature and the power of a woman. And it is a combination of these forms that merge to create the works that follow.

After extensive research I decided to be more specific and concentrate on inspiring women from South Asian history. To start with, in some of my miniatures in Out of the Forest, I have used the iconic and unforgettable figure, the Rani Lakhshmibai of Jhansi who bravely fought against the British in 1857 in the War of Independence.Next, I plan to make her contemporary, who valiantly fought them during the same period, Begum HazratMahal. She has been publicized far less and I plan to celebrate her in my paintings.
Unfortunately, very little information or visuals are available on the ladies who I wish to emulate and use in my paintings. For example, Zebunnisa, the poetess (daughter of the Emperor Aurangzeb) or Gul Badan Begum, the authoress of the Humayunnama (Emperor Humayun’s half-sister) from Mughal times. So many women who contributed to the history, culture and literature of those times remain hidden. Such important figures deserve to be celebrated. For my next project, I will have to create works through my own imagination and piece together the fragments I have found from here and there.

Out of the Forest implies that the worst is over. Having overcome all the obstacles in their way that were preventing them from achieving their true potential, these valiant women from our history have been set free. The works in this ongoing series are a humble tribute to them, an attempt at archiving them through more obvious imagery such as the miniatures or through more abstract pieces such as the pinecone drawings.