Artist Farwa Moledina, who showed at the end of 2019 as part of New Art West Midlands x Coventry Biennial, has recently taken part in an exhibition in Lahore, Pakistan. Curated by Ikon’s Director Jonathan Watkins and Aisha Khalid, A Rich Tapestry featured works by Farwa as part of Lahore Biennale collateral activity. Her works were shown alongside those by Mahtab Hussain, Matthew Krishanu  and Osman Yousefzada, alongside Pakistani artists Ali Kazim and Imran Qureshi.


We spoke to Farwa to find out more about her experiences of the project.


Not Your Harem Girl (2018), Farwa Moledina, detail shot, (digital print on fabric)


Can you tell me more about how the project opportunity arose?


Ikon will be showing the work of Aisha Khalid as part of their winter exhibition, and so this project came about through conversations on possible cultural exchanges between artists in Lahore and Birmingham.


Which works are you showing? How have these been developed?


I am interested in 19th Century Orientalist artworks and the way in which Western male painters depicted highly exotic and erotic versions of Muslim and Arab women from the Middle East and the Maghreb. Through my work, I try to subvert and reclaim the Orientalist narrative that is still so prevalent in current society.


For A Rich Tapestry, I am showing two new works entitled No one is neutral here and You must choose your part in the end. These works are a series of digital prints on polyester. In these an anonymous woman is photographed wrapped in a cloak that has been designed using elements of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’ La Grande Odalisque, a well-known Orientalist artwork from the 19th Century. The pattern includes a scanned-in image of an embroidery I created with the words ‘Not Your Harem Girl’ and also an image of a hand with a henna design I made from the same text; when combined these elements form a pattern that resembles Islamic geometric art.


I often work in layers, taking time to create embroidery and henna that then feature in the work – so even though the pattern is not entirely obvious within No one is neutral here and You must choose your part in the end, the process of making the cloaking fabric itself together with the text is an act of defiance and challenging Western male perceptions of Arab, Muslim and WOC, both in the 19th Century and even now.


The images are taken at the Ayasofya (Hagia Sofia) in Turkey, although that isn’t made obvious. I have attempted to negate the ‘exotic’ that is often associated with the East by steering away from the elaborate mosaic tiles and stereotypical ‘otherness’ that we are often identified with. Even though the location is not evident, I felt it was important to take this fabric back to Turkey and physically carry it around to photograph. This was part of the process for me, and my practice is as much process as it is the final work. The images are taken beside a column and beside a window, when paired, they speak of enduring gender politics both past and present, whilst also challenging the West’s voyeuristic view of Muslim and Eastern womxn.


You must choose your part in the end (2019), Farwa Moledina, Lahore Biennale: A Rich Tapestry, Aisha Khalid Studio 2: January 2020 (digital print on polyester)


How do these works respond to the sites they are shown in and the contexts of Lahore?


I feel the works respond really well to the sites and to Lahore in general. There are some incredible female artists in Pakistan, Aisha being one of them. Showing my work in spaces that she has created and lived in, surrounded by farmland that she has cultivated is a real honour. Pakistan is no stranger to the effects and consequences of colonisation and British rule and I feel strongly that displaying the series in Lahore served to elevate the pieces, which reflect the difficulty of reclaiming a sense of self separate from the colonial gaze. As such, I feel very privileged to have been given the opportunity to showcase my work in such an appropriate context.


No one is neutral here (2019), Farwa Moledina, Lahore Biennale: A Rich Tapestry, Aisha Khalid Studio Gardens, January 2020 (digital print on polyester)


What has been your experience in Lahore and as a part of collateral events for the Biennale?


Visiting Lahore was such an incredible and enriching experience. There is a rich history and culture in Pakistan that is sometimes forgotten. The Pakistani people were incredibly kind and hospitable, and constantly went out of their way to make us feel welcome and cared for. Pakistani art has also been incredibly inspiring, and I have so much to think about and reflect on.


What do you hope the impact of this exhibition might be upon your work?


Showing work in South Asia and the Middle East is really important to me given my roots and the nature of my work and I am grateful for this opportunity. The art scene in Lahore is really thriving and I hope this leads to further exhibitions within the region.


What do you hope to make/research/show next?


As always, I’m interested in the issues surrounding Muslim/womxn of colour and hope to continue making work around these themes. I will be undertaking a research residency at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery in the next few months where I will have the opportunity to respond to their collection, so I’m very much looking forward to that!

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