Hiba Schahbaz (b. 1981 Karachi, Pakistan) is a Brooklyn-based artist working with paper, black tea, and water-based pigments as well as oil on linen. Schahbaz trained in miniature painting at the National College of Arts, Lahore, Pakistan, and received an MFA in painting from Pratt Institute. Hiba’s works have been shown at ICA Miami, Jeffrey Deitch Gallery, Half Gallery, Almine Rech London, FIAC, and a public art commission, “In My Heart,” for Rockefeller Centre with Art Production Fund.
THAT: Tell us about your practice.
HS: I’m a painter. I paint life-size figurative paintings of women, mythical creatures, and animals in imagined landscapes. I paint with tea and watercolor on paper and recently have been teaching myself oil painting, which is a deeply satisfying and rich medium, one that I’ve grown to love.
THAT: You’ve often spoken about the influence of Indo-Persian miniature painting in your practice and that is also what you studied in school. What about the tradition drew you to it? Does it influence how you approach larger oil works?
HS: I studied Indo-Persian miniature painting in Lahore. It’s a beautiful, delicate genre of Islamic art. I love everything about it and It continues to inform my paintings. Mastering a rigorous traditional art form is almost devotional and meditative. The ritualistic preparation of materials such as paper and brushes, the discipline of layering translucent washes of paint. Every part of the process is important and mindful. This energy seeps into all areas of my life.
THAT: Can you tell us about your approach towards color in your work? You mentioned that even if you want to paint the sky blue it comes out red or pink.
HS: Color is very intuitive in my paintings. The last few years have revealed many pink and red landscapes. Recently I’ve been using black in the studio for the first time. It’s unexpected and protective.
THAT: You’ve spoken about the importance of femininity in your practice and that very much comes through even in your early works. Do you feel your perspective on what femininity means to you (and how it's expressed in your work) changed over time?
HS: Growing up in Karachi, in a Muslim society, gender roles were clearly defined and I was brought up with strict values of what it meant to be a woman. Over time these values have evolved but the feminine energy within me is deeply rooted and grows stronger with time.
There is a certain beauty in Eastern culture that moves me, it is almost devotional and can be felt more than it can be seen. For me, the expression of the divine feminine is much like the expression of other natural energies like love, the divine masculine, mother Gaia, spirit, truth, faith, and magic.
THAT: What has been inspiring you lately? It can be anything - an artist, movies, theme, relationships, etc.
HS: I’m inspired by that which connects us across time and geography. The similarities between spirituality and science shared magical creatures which exist in art, literature and oral traditions across cultures. I’m inspired by the history of art, by looking at and recreating images that move me.
THAT: What's next for you?
HS: At this time I’m painting large mural-size paintings which I’m very excited to develop in the studio over the winter. In Jan 2023 I will present paintings at Art SG (Singapore) and an exhibition of my paintings will open at Almine Rech in Paris on Feb 11th.
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