Sabah Hussain

15 – 24 August, 2015


Sabah Husain is a visual artist and curator; she received her B.F.A from National College of Arts, Lahore and M.F.A from Kyoto University of Fine Arts and Music, Japan. She is presently Artist-in-Residence at the School of Museum of Fine Arts Boston USA. Her works have been exhibited extensively in Pakistan and abroad, group shows were held at the School of Museum of Fine Arts Boston, 2014, Kyoto City Museum Japan, Victoria and Albert Museum U.K and Pacific Asia Museum California USA. Selected solo exhibitions were held at the Embassy of Pakistan in Washington DC, 2015, Yamaso Art Gallery Kyoto and October Gallery London. Her works are in the collection of National Art Gallery Pakistan, Permanent Collection of the U.S Embassy Islamabad, [AIE] Pakistan, Victoria and Albert Museum, British Museum, U.K and Okinawa Museum, Japan.


Sabah Husain’s art practice, takes shape within a diverse sphere of media, process and iconography. A lengthy tenure of intense training in painting and printmaking conditioned much of her pictorialpredilection. Sabah’s MFA from Kyoto University of Fine Arts and Music including a study of language and paper making contributes an additional perspective for the BFA degree shecompleted at the National College of Arts, Lahore, Pakistan. Throughout her career, one that spans twenty-five years, and in the present series as well, Japanese aesthetic informs South Asian artistic and cultural modes. Inspired by Urdu and Persian poetry, her artistic practicereveals itself in both realistic imagery and in abstraction.Prints, handmade paper, paint, mixed media, photography and digital media carry the narrative.

Jalaluddin Rumi, Persia’s 13th century poet as well asNoon MeemRashed, 20th century pioneer of modern Pakistan poetry inspired Sabah’s intellectual exploration.Paper boats made from drawings, paintings, prints and writings from Sabah’s previously unrevealed portfolio, have been cut and folded into vessels to take an aquatic journey through time and place. Swirls of liquid color staining marbled sheets of handmade paper emulate ripples and waves of a turbulent current. Sabah’s iconographic content finds visual manifestation in dialogue with the poetic ideology espoused by Hassan the potter in Rashed’s poem Hassan Koozagar.

In this exhibition, river as narrator of history, ancient to present, with stories of violence and tragedy as well as love and beauty navigatestwo symbolic shores, one in Pakistan and the other in Iraq. The Ravi River that skirts Lahore, the city where Sabah lives andthe Tigris ‘Dajla’ at Baghdad, where Hassan the potter begins his creative journey, have deposited eons of historical knowledge into the river-bed sediment. Memory from the incessant flow of the rivers conflates and seeks visual response in Sabah’s intellectual transmigrations.

Clay potsare symbolic receptacles for suchaccumulated knowledge. Contemplating Rashed’s pervasive deliberation with pottery in Hassan Koozagar—as Hassan the potter as well as the multivalent meaning of the pottery itself—Parveen Rahim theorizes that the clay pottery is symbolic of Hassan’s creation and by virtue of that Hassan himself becomes the creator. While this reading may seem hereticalRahim believes that Rashed saw the “uselessness of arriving at any conclusion on the basis of religion, the futility of reasoning which leads only to ambiguity (and) the observation that time ironically is both the creator and the destroyer…” (Baitak 11/1-05)

Similarly Sabah’s clay pots derive from antiquity and transpose into the future. They have taken shape from ancient Indus Valley sites like Harappa or Mohenjodaro, situated along the Ravi Riverandlike Hassan’s potsthey contain centuries of wisdom, poorly appreciated, but unlike those of Rashed’s potter, they give up treasure willingly.

In Sabah’s series, pots function beyond their common purpose. They hold and withhold and, like the paper boats,transverse alternative realities. A clay vessel morphs from one to many, from realistic to abstract. And ultimately transforms into a double helix, the DNA of all knowledge,Sabah uses the DNA to represent Hassan’s journeys and history.

Dr. Marcella Sirhandi
Emerita, Oklahoma State University