In Conversation with the Artists of Anwar al Funun

December 16, 2017

In conversation with Artists of Anwaar al Funun.
Interview by Fatema A.


Today we invite you to meet some of the brilliant artists behind the artist’s feature, and learn about further about their installations at the Anwaar exhibit in Karachi.

Zaenab Bensaab Imaduddin


The Yemeni Collection – A colourful compilation depicting festivity in the Hamlets of Haraaz. The splash of indigo hues on buildings with hints of mauves and lilacs to burgundies and browns, and happy pink skies in the background create a sense of joy and excitement. Eid for the Yemenis is the most anticipated festival of the year and is celebrated after a month of fasting. This pious achievement is rewarded with lots of lights, meat, sweets and glittery decorations. Haraazis are a very closely knit community, and occasions like Eid make the young and old visit each other’s homes to offer their salaams/greetings.

My paintings try to capture this enthusiastic spirit of the inhabitants of Haraaz while celebrating Eid. One cannot miss the welcoming broad smiles of Syed Abdullah and his sons, Salman and Hamdan, which come straight from their hearts to invite us to their humble homes on Eid.

Hawra Ben Harianawala 

We were asked to create work using Yemen as our inspiration along with the hobby pieces that we submitted for Anwar ul Funun Karachi 1439. I created all three pieces in Karachi, which was nice because I found myself inspired and intrigued by the Kaachi. I had returned to it after six years of distance from it. I used to live in Karachi from 2006 to 2012 and since 2012 I’ve made Houston my home.

They say distance makes the heart grow fonder and indeed, fonder I felt. I don’t know if it was the euphoric joy all Pakistanis were feeling for receiving the immense sharaf of hosting Ashara after 20 years, or just the feeling of privilege to be able to attend Ashara with Maula (TUS). Maybe it was an amalgamation of many good feelings and vibes. I was inspired by everything during my stay in Karachi, I felt like taking pictures at every intersection and I wanted to document all the things I was seeing with fresh eyes.

I decided on the feel and treatment of all three pieces to be the connecting thread. I decided to deconstruct my pieces by colouring outside the subject lines. I wanted my subject to be rendered in graphite to reduce it to its basic elements to enhance its significance and beauty.  


The piece titled “Simple Pleasures” is my attempt at representing the simple and raw life the Yemenis live. The reference picture was taken by a friend during his trip to Yemen. I liked the fact that the I knew the photographer and could interview him and ask his permission before I started this piece.

The appeal of this picture has many layers; It is technically and compositionally stunning, the rock shack surrounding the figure in perfect symmetry, the colour palette leaves a lot of room for experimentation and playful use of media. The young man featured, is at an age that bridges childhood youth and a possible look at an older version of him. To me, it represents the idea that in places like Yemen where life is hard, children have to grow up faster and become responsible for working long hard laborious days. I wanted to capture the notion that after a long day at work his bottle of Fanta: a thing we take for granted in the developed parts of the world, is a treat. Hence the title Simple Pleasures.


Abundance. 16″/16″. Acrylic and graphite on canvas.

Abundance is a piece that features Pomegranates. I saw a branch of the pomegranate tree drooping under the weight of the many fruits it bore. It reminded me of the abundance we have enjoyed under Burhanuddin Maula (RA) and Muffaddal Maula (TUS)’s time. And how our heads are bowed in shukur under the immense Ehsans that they continue to bestow upon us. How, despite what goes on in this world, they continue to feed us from the fruits of heaven.


Cohabitation . 20″/20″. Acrylic and graphite on canvas.

Cohabitation is the piece that features different plants growing in the same pot. It resonated with me on a personal level, as I am one of five children and have grown up with a larger family unit in close proximity. It embodies the spirit of a shared life within which resides our individual and unique pace of growth.

Which one took you the longest to make and why?

Simple pleasure took me long simply because I took a break from it. It’s always hard to find the flow once you break the process. It is also one with a lot more detail.

Which one would you say is the closest to your heart?

They are all close to my heart but if I had to pick it would be simple pleasures. Because of what it represents and also because the young man in the pictures resembles my father when he was around that age. Something my niece pointed out to me later. It reminded me of how many of our choices come from our subconscious mind.

An important lesson learnt?

Anwaar ul funun was an amazing experience. Even though Mufaddal Maula (TUS) has seen my work and I have had the opportunity to present my pieces to him during Houston Ashara, this was a whole new level. It was a first for me, to be in an exhibition environment where we got to see Maula (TUS) view our work. Also, I have never displayed my work in a mumin environment before, which was quite an amazing experience. I saw that a lot of young people are art connoisseurs. Not only are they interested in the technical and illustrative aspects of the art, but have deeper more meaningful questions to ask about the work. I really enjoyed my interactions with the younger audience. I guess the lesson learnt is that we have to expose our work to different audiences in order to be pleasantly surprised.  

Zahra Ammar

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I think your art forms are the kind that one just can’t help but fall in love. The brilliance of colours, the intricacy, just the magic of having turned ordinary pieces of paper into such spectacular pieces. You have to tell us how and when you got started?

I always had my hand in some project or another for as far as I can remember. Even when life got in the way, I would be doing a patch of embroidery, a doodle on my textbooks, or putting a dash of paint somewhere. My love for quilling started when my sister in law gifted me a slotted tool a couple of years ago. Late one night, she showed me how to quill a butterfly. I was hooked.

Completely and utterly hooked.

I believe I started by making tiny flowers, snowflakes and just random tidbits. I used it to embellish cards, envelopes and DIY boxes. Looking back, it has been quite an adventure in experimentation.

Have you ever felt a crazy idea brewing in your mind that keeps expanding so much so that you have to do it or a part of you will scatter? It was something like this that urged me to make something insane. I was teaching 11th graders AP English and had given them an assignment to visually comb the insanity of Ms Havisham (Great Expectations). My students very successfully convinced me to do the assignment as well. What ensued was a splash of oil colours, pencil sketches, flowers, cobwebs, mirrors and monotone lines that I quilled. Let’s just say that my students gave me generous marks and that within a few months someone actually paid me for it.

I never realized how versatile paper could be. We think of it as a medium to be worked upon and never as a colour palette itself. I feel it has the potential to give depth and structure, create moods and shadows, and weave a story just as well as oils or watercolours or a concrete sculpture.


How much time does it take on average?

That is a tough one. Sometimes a few hours, sometimes days and at times even weeks. One thing I know for sure is that once I start a piece, it keeps developing a personality. It dictates the momentum and pace for me. However, I treat this as a 9 to 5 job. Most days I am at my studio by 9 and have a list of things that I need to get done during the day. Discipline is key because it can get very chaotic while I am in the process of making a piece.


What would you say is the hardest/easiest/most fun part of the process?

This may sound ironic, but the hardest part is often the most fun to do. I usually start with a vague idea in my head. Then I plan. That’s the most time consuming and difficult part. You see, you can learn a difficult technique if you practice, but to plan just the right colours, the right sizes, the placement of everything is arduous. Saying that I have learnt that keeping track of the planning and noting down everything has made this easier. However, there is no manual to art. I have to trash things, rework, completely disregard the plan and experiment. Experimentation is key.


Where does most of your inspiration come from?

I literally look around me each day, and think to myself – can I transform that? I have a long list of things I need to make and it keeps getting longer by the day. I draw inspiration from other art forms and also from unexpected places. For example, last year I make a series of hands called Barely Holding On and the inspiration was a crime drama where the investigator would find clues through body reactions. Part of one episode was on hands and I just had a eureka moment. Impulsively, I made hand after hand, or rather they made themselves through me.

I have learnt a lot of things from Instagram artists. I enjoy sharing my work and techniques there and blog which has led me to make amazing connections too. These days I am addicted to making stop-motion videos and time lapses of my work. They take hours to make but are super fun!

Why should someone pick up this art form?

I think art does what words cannot fully express. We as humans, crave for dialogue. There are times when words are just not enough, or those sensations we feel deep inside cannot be formed. At times like this, any form of art can bring about conversations or open an avenue for such feelings to flow through. Focusing on paper art particularly, is something that gaining a lot of popularity these days. It is fun. Paper is accessible. It is also a very forgiving medium. Anyone can simply pick up a piece of paper and explore the possibilities. Cut it, glue it, paint it, shape it, model it, stick things to it. One’s imagination is the only limit!

Mariyam Ben Shk. Nooruddin


Your technique in the miniseries was very different compared to your larger pieces. How does that switch in technique work?

The miniseries were fluid and loosely painted compared to the larger architectural paintings. In terms of technique, you have to paint wet on wet to get a loosely painted look. And then you can add layers of details once the paper is completely dry.




I loved the colour palette on this painting. How did it come to be?

I didn’t put much thought into deciding the colour palette. I tried to match colours with the reference photos.



The play between light and dark is just brilliant in this piece. The colours are bold, and it’s just such a remarkable piece of work. What was the most fun/frustrating aspect when painting it?

As you know watercolours fade as they dry so I had to paint layer after layer to make the shadows dark enough. Black was just not being black enough! And that was quite frustrating.

The best thing about this painting is that at the exhibition I noticed that a lot of people connected with it. They wanted to talk about it, interpret it. This has never happened with any of my other paintings, where usually I am the one speaking about them. Someone said that this painting reminded them of a dream they had had many years ago. A few people mentioned that the valley resembled the shape of a human heart.


Would you say you have found your style?

I wouldn’t say that I’ve found my style as yet. I have just only started my journey as an artist. I’m still exploring and experimenting with different mediums and techniques.  I have a long way to go. The most important thing for me is that I enjoy the process and have fun along the way. I am very capable of making good bad and horrible paintings. I make sure the horrible ones don’t see the light of day.

Mazher Sadiq

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My name is Mazher Sadiq, I was born in Karachi, Pakistan. I am a Realtime Broadcast Graphics Designer working in a TV channel. Drawing is my passion. I entered the world of art as a self-taught artist, who gradually developed and refined his techniques.

The detailing in your work is just absolutely mind-blowing. Where do you find the patience!

Unlike other styles, Photorealism takes much more time whether it is a pencil work or any other medium. In my case, the starting phase is a little boring but when I start getting the result, that is it! I would draw tirelessly until I felt satisfied with how accurate and precise it looked.


Have you had any formal training for this?

No, I am a self-taught artist.

I’m always looking for perfection and therefore I never stop experimenting and evolving. Being extremely precise in drawing is what I’m most passionate about. I aspire to create art as vivid as eyes could see.


What’s the story behind how you got started? What was your first ever piece of this style?

Since childhood, I was passionate about drawing. Whenever I got a pencil I used to draw on anything, whether it was a paper or a wall, I even drew on my father’s passport. As I grew I rekindled my passion for art when I saw some portraits made with graphite pencils on the internet. I thought to myself, I want to know how to do that too. As soon as I finished my schooling and was free and had nothing to do, I sketched few portraits of Syedna Mohammad Burhanuddin RA and Syedna Taher Saifuddin RA and tried to do Araz during Karachi safar, but it didn’t work. I was disappointed and discontinued drawing. It was not over yet! In 2014, I got an opportunity to work on commissioned portraits of Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin TUS and Syedna Mohammad Burhanuddin RA. It was my first realistic portrait which was appreciated and praised by everyone, I returned to art after a very long break and discovered I could draw to a noticeably skilful degree.


How much time does it take on average to finish a piece?

Days, weeks, sometimes months all depends on my mood and the size of the artwork.


What do you draw the most inspiration from?

Progression inspires and motivates me, not just as an artist, but as a human being. Productivity makes me happy, being able to produce and create art for people to engage with. To prompt and arouse emotions, making people feel inspired and encouraged is what gives me great joy and satisfaction, and in turn, inspires me to keep creating.

Check out the full feature on all the artists here

Find them on Instagram!

Anwaar-al-Funun Official: @anwaar_al_funun


Zahra Ben Ammar: zahraammarart

Hawra Ben Harianawala: studioh41

Mariyam Ben Sh. Nooruddin: mrym_makes

Mazher bhai Sadiq: mazhear


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