Qinza Najm is a NYC based Pakistani American multi-disciplinary artist. Originally trained as a painter, she now enlists a broad range of mediums in her creative practice. She is primarily motivated by a compulsion to speak for the voiceless by any means necessary through many different mediums.
What themes are you working on currently?
Well, I’m focusing on investigating desire, gender, violence, the male gaze and empowerment and how that affects the conversations that are happening. I’m more interested in how, sometimes, the bad practices become the norms of the society. Whether it’s the beating of women and saying that’s not a big deal. In many cultures, and to a certain extent, in American culture, what happens within a relationship is viewed as nobody else’s business. Even if what is happening is very violent and destructive. These are the conversations that I want to provoke so that people will do something about it in their own way, whether it’s big or small.
You are a painter but you use all these other mediums. What has that journey been like?
It’s been a very exciting and challenging journey. By nature, I am very experimental in my work. I enjoy taking risks and failing, sometimes failing miserably. I love failure because that’s where the new stuff comes out of. You create questions and try to get some new things from that questioning…
Where does that questioning come from?
The questions come from my anger. The questions comes from me thinking, “Are we still in the cave ages in certain ways?” Why? I think my questions come out of my pain, my anger, and my frustration. Then I write and the idea dictates what the medium is going to be. I’m totally reacting to my current environment. I’m reacting to what I’m living in and I feel this urgency to say something.
What inspires you?
Humanity, its struggles, failures and triumphs. The world today despite having reached the brink of advancement and liberation is still in a fix and undergoing oppression in multiple ways. That being said, what inspires me are those people, who have found the strength to reverse the affect and have worked through their fears to change negative narratives into positive ones. The innate ability, we human beings hold to stretch, expand, endure, transform lives through resilience is something that puts my practice into perspective.
You have a PhD in Psychology, when did you realize its art you want to pursue?
It has always been my inclination to have an impact on society in a positive manner, which is what I achieved during my time as a Psychologist. However, I feel that practicing art has provided me with a broader platform to initiate self-reflection and ask difficult questions that I believe leads to growth and empowerment without it only being for a particular strata. I have always carried art with me.
Describe your work in five words?
Experimental, relevant, thought provoking, inspirational and multidimensional!
In your opinion what art works have you initiated that both western and eastern cultures can relate to?
Sometime around last year, I worked on a piece that was called No Honor in Honor Killing, which aimed to strike dialogue regarding Pakistan’s culture of honor killings. This year I revived that project, renaming it as No Honor in Killing, which was focused towards the school shootings in USA. The project dealt with me collecting over 11,000 bullet casings all around New York. It also contained photographs of victims of gun violence. I believe it was one of my more impactful works that is prevalent to both cultures, as gun violence is something that has spanned out geographically.
Do you consider yourself a Feminist?
I do not appreciate being put in any kind of a box. This word gets a bad reputation and generally perceived as female chauvinism. The term feminism has been taken in a vastly different connotation than what it’s supposed to be understood as. For me it’s another word for equality. Rather than one gender being in opposition to the other, its more along the lines of both genders having the ability to avail equal opportunity, respect, security, breaking stereotypes that prove to cause hindrances in the lives of both sexes.
What does your art practice aim to emphasize?
I strongly feel that art has the ability to enable the masses to shift paradigms at a sub-conscious level. I take it as my responsibility to provoke a line of questioning and self-reflection. Norms that have become so ingrained in our psyche that we accept them without knowing their impact or origin. I explored the saying “Sweep it under the rug,” because at times it is better to keep the dirt under the rug. But, at other times the dirt needs to be swept out. I express this by using hand woven and machine made carpets as my canvas. The paintings of women on the carpet represent those who have been walked on as if they were a rug. By painting on the rugs and putting the rugs on the walls and attaching them to the ceiling I am, in my imagination, raising the status of these women and giving them figuratively and literally a different place in society and culture. The aim is to liberate human potential in myself and hopefully in others.
Your exhibition takes place on the 15th of November, 2018 in Karachi at Chawkandi Gallery. What kind of art should we expect?
The exhibition will have multiple mediums tackling the issues of desire, gender, violence and em (powerment). I questions these notions through paintings, hand-made and machine woven Persian rugs, videos as well as live art performance.
This is the first time you’re showcasing your artwork in Pakistan. What kind of feedback are you expecting your exhibition to gather?
As an artist, it is my hope for my art to hold a significant enough impact to not only spark meaningful dialogue but also enable the people to work against indoctrinated mindsets. I hope to move and more importantly strengthen my audience through my art work by having them question their own personal strength through their internal and external violence that we all have as human beings.