In conversation with Mazher bhai Nizar.
Artwork Mazher bhai Nizar.
What was the spark?
As far as I can remember, during my childhood, staying in Mumbai, I saw the large banners surrounded all over, on the buildings of cinemas mostly, and their colours had an effect on me, they always attracted me. I sat at home thinking how this was done and it was amazing how such large paintings were done for cinemas. It began to be a real attraction for me, to start thinking how somebody could do such things. At that young age, I was too young to think about art, I only had a paper and pencil and I was scribbling in my books. At that moment, I felt that I had something in me and that I was interested in drawing and art.
What is your relationship with your art?
All my childhood and my teenage life, up till the end of college, it felt like I breathed only art. Art is in my blood. I see everything as a creative inspiration. Light and composition always move around in my mind. Though I cannot draw all the time, I feel everything can be a piece of art if you have a proper way of thinking, using lines and shapes and avoiding any disturbing elements around the subject. This is how I have continued to work with simple subjects. At one point in time, I became really focused on women, and their expressions and I used to use lines to express them. I had a deep feeling inside me that these are very strong and simple forms on a women. I also use watercolour to paint beautiful sceneries around me. I am breathing art all the way and I feel like I cannot think of anything else in my life except art.
Where do you draw most of your inspiration from?
It is always a surprise for me. When I see something, I start thinking that this can be a piece of art. My eyes catch sight of something and I get really interested, and I start to feel it and try to bring it on a piece of paper or canvas. My inspiration is always there, in something around me – when I’m walking or talking to someone, it comes naturally to me. Even if I see garbage, or a person, or an object, it gives me the feeling of a piece of art. At the moment, I see an ongoing war in my country and I start thinking and feeling the situation in the country, and it becomes a personal feeling. I combine lines and abstract formation and my own feelings and they become a piece of art. So such inspirations come from situations in life, even though they may be ugly but at the end of the day, all I want to showcase is hope and peace through my art.
Can you describe your artistic process for us?
I always carry a pen and a small notebook with me and I scribble things that come from my subconscious mind. My day-to-day scribbling reflects what I see and feel in my life. The lines go on and join to form semi-realistic or a mix of abstract formations. Then, when I relook at the drawings or scribbles the same day or the day after, I think of how I can develop that piece into something more, on mixed media, on paper or on a large canvas. I may even come back to the peice years later. This is how I keep myself very free in the process of working with art. I don’t purposely prepare a series. It just happens when I start working on those pieces through time. I don’t want to show a particular subject but I do want it to reflect the daily life of a person and how he feels in his surroundings. I realise that I am so flexible with my drawings that I feel that what I did ten years ago can reflect today’s subject, today’s situation, today’s problem and I can easily title them in today’s context and they became universal like that. This is surprising even for me, how this has become an artistic process for me.
What is your most sought after medium?
Well, my medium has never dominated me in any case. I’m always searching for materials for my paintings. I do not stick to one technique of watercolour or acrylic or mixed media. I always try to fill my canvas with some textures, some interesting fragments and some kind of objects by using different materials, like old wallpaper, some kind of motifs, some kind of impressions. These mediums are always speaking out. Somewhere in the corner, you will often find some kind of texture, or some kind of interesting element in my paintings which are the language of my inner feelings at one point in time. So no, I am not dominated by one particular medium in my life as I work with many mediums. Even in the future, I may find something interesting to make my work more interesting with spatial mixed media techniques, on canvas or on paper. I’m always doing smth to get more texture and get more depth in my work. That way, I can really enjoy working and make it more beautiful rather than making it one style of work. These techniques help me to elaborate the feelings of my work, and it goes on and on with mixed media techniques, being anything, any material, collage, or even simple acrylic paintings. They all have a lot of textures. This is how I do my work.
You have been in this field for a long time! How has art changed over the years, for better or worse?
I don’t see much changes except for the installations. Every piece of art has its own depth. These days, installation has surprised me as a piece of art. The philosophical displays go over my head. I believe that a piece of art is one that moves you, even if it is a simple drawing. A piece that communicates with someone is a piece of art. This is the process I’ve been going through and it is a regular process. I don’t think I can judge if it is better or worse, but when I see a piece of art, I look at it as inspiration and go home and try to work on it in my own way.
What did your very first exhibition feel like?
This happened sometime in 1986, when I had a small gallery in Sanaa, where art was not really known to be displayed on walls. We had very few artists in Yemen who studied abroad and came back. I myself studied in Calcutta and came back, and did my first solo show in Sanaa. I felt like “Here I am, with people admiring my work” and that is how I decided that I want to continue with many shows thereafter. This first solo show also guided me to do my first series of works within a short period of time so it was all very exciting for me. I enjoyed it and I remember it very clearly, it was a good experience for me.
Which has been your most beloved/ memorable show so far?
The one I did in Canada, a solo show in Calgary and Ottawa. It was challenging because the shows were filled with art lovers, and both shows were sold out. It felt great to know that my art was so appreciated. It was a turning point in my life, a show I could never forget. I was also asked to give a speech on how a Yemeni artist from Yemen could develop his artistic skills and artworks to reach to this level. It was very appreciated and it is the best memory I have so far.
You have managed to turn your art into your life’s work, what did it take to get here?
It was a difficult journey. I finished my art course and in that same month, I left Calcutta to come to Yemen. I had no idea what would happen. Yemen was a country that had nothing to do with art. I had no idea if I would be successful as an artist in Yemen. Even if I was in India, I would have had the same fear but I thought that Yemen would be a fresh start for a contemporary artist to exploit the history and the beautiful scenery of the country. There were a lot of tourists coming in at that time which made my art sell. Even the locals were starting to appreciate the art I made. The people started to understand though they could not critic like experts. I felt like I had to make the most of my time in Yemen.
What advice would you give your 20-year-old self?
I would say that work as much as you can, whatever time you get, utilise it very well because art is no just an easy way to go out and be successful. It needs lots of patience and a lot of work, so you have to be very careful and utilise time to work hard. Practice makes perfect and you should continue to devote yourself to art. Art is not easy to live and survive with, it is an ongoing process.
What do you wish to convey through your art?
As I said earlier, hope and peace. This is the only thing that remains in this world. There’s so much chaos in the world and so much ignorance. We are all trying to live our lives, see what is going on and trying to learn from the situation. My works are always conveying peace and hope. I try to give a piece of my mind to other people by showing them my work, reflecting what should be happening in the world now. This is the only way the world can survive and live in peace. We have one life and we should take care of it and others and try to give good feeling to each other.
What would you advise someone who is just beginning their art journey?
Don’t think of what will happen in future, just enjoy yourself while working. You should be happy with working with art and you should achieve happiness through working. Work as much as you can during your beginning stage, that will help you in your future for sure. Work but also have a lot of patience. That will bring you to your peak at one point. Do your best at what you like and don’t try to follow others or copy others. That will only give you a commercial kind of work. If you do what you like and respect that, it will come to a stage that it will become your style and that work will speak out better and better in the future. This is what I did in my life, this is what I felt and this is the advice I’m giving you.