Umber Majeed

Umber Majeed (b. New York, 1989) is a multidisciplinary visual artist and educator. Her writing, performance, and animation work engage with familial archives to explore Pakistani state, urban, and digital infrastructure through a feminist lens. Majeed has shown in venues across Pakistan, North America, and Europe. Her recent solo exhibitions include; ‘Made in Trans-Pakistan, Pioneer Works, Brooklyn (2022), ‘Trans-Pakistan Zindabad (Facts about the Earth)’, 1708 Gallery, Richmond, Virginia (2021), and ‘In the Name of Hypersurface of the Present’, Rubber Factory, New York (2018). She lives and works in New York, USA, and Lahore, Pakistan.
May 9, 2023
Tell us about your practice.
Speculative fiction, collage, and digital interface are consistent formal and conceptual tools within my interdisciplinary art practice. In my current projects, I use architectural design and historical events specific to Pakistan to negate convoluted understandings of nationalism, community, and self. I am interested in the temporal disjunctures of South Asia’s urban scape as a catalyst to propose alternative futures. I use animation and the digital interface to collapse familial analog photographic materials, easily disseminated stock imagery, and Urdu literature on poetry and tourism ephemera. Through my current project, “Trans-Pakistan Zindabad”, my practice is becoming more interactive and socially engaged, where the public and the user-body are active components in the artistic experience. 
Your practice involves a variety of mediums – what draws you to a multi-disciplinary practice? And how does this approach speak to your overall goals as an artist?
I think I see myself more as a digital artist as the interface and technology are important features in my drawings as well as in my animations. As such, ideas take precedence over specific artistic mediums. I am trying to conceptually play with the blurred lines between digital and physical realities today. I have some training to film and edit various digital software but if the project is calling for specific crafts or technical skills I definitely enjoy collaborating to achieve the vision. I feel like I have been working this way for a while and the more complex- world-building aspects of my current projects, the more I get to learn through others- whether it is Urdu Poetry, ceramics, or augmented reality. 
You often reference familial histories and archives in your practice in ways that speak to larger socio-political issues of our time, how do you navigate weaving the personal with broader collective narratives?
My art training in Lahore, Pakistan; Beirut, Lebanon, and New York helped cultivate a regional and intersectional understanding of politics and gender specifically of the MENASA Region. I grew up in the United States with Pakistani immigrant parents and spent my formative years in Lahore, Pakistan. I returned to New York to continue my art training in graduate school; this moving back and forth really fortified my concerns about my subject position–diasporic experience as a Pakistani-American femme. 
Considering this, I use familial archives as a way to continue an intergenerational dialogue on nation-building, community, and patriarchy. It is an ongoing conversation with nostalgic aspirations that children of immigrants hear their whole life but come to terms with an exercise in their own politics – aspirational or not. 
Much of your work stems from rigorous research practice. Can you share a bit about how you choose to hone in on specific historical or archival topics?
I first came to work with familial archives as a personal project. My maternal grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and was interested in analog photography for most of his life. He obsessively photographed even after being diagnosed,  there were suitcases of his analog photography prints, uncategorized of flora, and fauna, and his travels as a flaneur. I was interested in preserving some of my grandfather’s photographs to bring back to the United States for my mother and through the process, I learned about my grandfather’s political leanings and his life’s work around his participation in the Muslim League and the creation of Pakistan. His photographs also reflected his politics even if we could not communicate during his illness. It took many years to make sense of how I would like to use these materials and what my subject position would be in working with it. Eventually, I started to create speculative fiction when first-hand knowledge couldn’t be gathered- outlining the limitations and gaps of knowledge. I eventually focused on a three-year project relating to nuclear nationalism, when I saw a photograph of my grandfather gifting his photograph to the nuclear scientist who led the project to make Pakistan a nuclear power. The photograph depicted 2 grown men posing in a governmental institution and holding a frame. Within the frame, a bush of flowers with a 1980s camera filter- to make it seem like the flower is exploding and right below a Quranic verse that speaks to how Abraham was thrown into the fire and it burst into flowers- an intersection of national love and destruction all in one. A document that encapsulates the personal and political grounds to speak on the generational impact on Pakistani Americans and their national home. 
What has been inspiring you lately?
When I last visited Pakistan I was so interested in the bootleg animal toys, books, and stickers that I have an entire box filled with them. Some graphics are going to enter some of my work-as drawings or ceramics- hopefully, very soon. 
What’s next for you?
I am currently researching for an upcoming solo exhibition in 2024, and getting back to spending long hours in my studio. I have an upcoming open studio at J and M Studios on June 2nd- 3rd if you want to hang out. I also have a virtual panel discussion happening at the Asia Art Archive in America on May 20th! 

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