For the past few years I have been pondering over the question of an artist's role in the current climate crisis. Due to concerns about climate crisis and my passion for trees I have started using recycled material. Since 20 years, my favourite art activity with children is to teach children how to make dolls from polythene bags and plastic bottles. While living in Germany, I loved the practice of recycling over there. I have been collecting lightly used tinfoil since 2014, and use it as my medium of art. This creative process started in the kitchen but then I started using wheel caps found by the roadside and other trash like newspapers and tin cans. I am also greatly inspired by the Ghanaian artist El Anatsui, who is famous for his monumental work made from recycled material. In this climate crisis, instead of adding more trash I wanted to recycle it to make art . The first tin foil sculpture titled ‘Tinfoil Mother Nature’ was made in Germany for an art Biennale Haimhausen Art 2020, while others in Pakistan.
In Pakistan, I have also engaged some school children, friends and family to collect tin cans, polythene bags and tin foil for me. My inspiration for this body of work is Gandhara art, which is a style of Buddhist visual art that developed between the 1st century BCE and the 7th century CE, what is now north western Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan. In this world of stereotypes it has become so difficult for many to understand that this work is not from India or any Bhuddist country but inspirations from Pakistan's heritage. Within Pakistan Pashtun's have a stereotype and Gandhara most of all is their heritage.
It is inspired by my childhood memories of Peshawar museum. Peshawar museum has the best collection of Gandhara art. Peshawar was once the capital of Buddhism and this is the city where I started painting lessons. This is the city where I saw my mother learning sculpture from Sardar Mohd Arbab. This is also the city where I finished the recitation of the Quran and had an elaborate Khatam celebration.
Sadly, the never ending wars have not only killed our loved ones, it has robbed us much of our heritage, our songs, dances and traditional arts. Each one of us in Pakistan has become a stereotype and it indeed is suffocating in this 'box of stereotype', so I refuse to be shoved in it. It is painful because this stereotype has become the reality now of many Pakistanis. But through my art I reclaim my millennium rich heritage and preserve my blissful memories of Pakistani cities where I lived.
I love photographing this work with trees in the woods and forests, most of all with the old trees of Islamabad that I documented in my coffee table book " Glimpses into Islamabad's Soul'. Some of these were saved as 'Natural Monuments' during a project I initiated with the Capital Development Authority CDA. The installation 'Mother Earth's Tribe' was displayed under an old banyan tree to celebrate it's protection as a 'Natural Monument'.
I find the contrast of the toxic tinfoil and organic trunks of trees very interesting. We live in a world of contrasts, where toxic things are being sold as beauty, and in the process it’s destroying a beautiful mother earth.
While I was working on this piece I had in mind this beautiful quote by the environmentalist Bill McKibben "We, all of us in the First World, have participated in something of a binge, a half century of unbelievable prosperity and ease. We may have had some intuition that it was a binge and the earth couldn't support it, but aside from the easy things (biodegradable detergent, slightly smaller cars) we didn't do much. We didn't turn our lives around to prevent it. Our sadness is almost an aesthetic response - appropriate because we have marred a great, mad, profligate work of art, taken a hammer to the most perfectly proportioned of sculptures."
In the end does it really matter to Mother Nature whether you are Muslim, Christian or Jew, black or white, woman or man, aren’t we all participating in the unending destruction of beautiful Mother Nature?