A Decade-Long Explorations
The realization of the circle’s significance, in terms of motif and backstory, together with her arrival at something of a personal milestone, convinced the British-Pakistani artist Shahida Ahmed that it should be the central theme of her first show at the Mussawir Gallery in Lahore.
The exhibition titled Full Circle explores the whirling dervish’s Sufi dance in all its forms, from groups of performers preparing to dance and acknowledging their audience to others synchronized, arms spread and heads tilted, in full flight.
“I started painting the whirling dervishes more than a decade ago, in 2008,” Shahida explains. “I’ve found that whatever I’m doing in my work, I always come back to them, whether as objects or religious dancers. In the same way, whatever’s happening in my life always leads me back to the same place or starting point.”
The title of each work on show draws on the writings of Rumi, the 13th-century Persian poet and Islamic scholar who has long been a source of inspiration for the artist. The whirling dervishes in Shahida’s new collection are decidedly different, with greater use of colour giving the pieces more vibrancy and a new level of dynamism.
“The earlier pieces were mostly white since my aim was to capture the purifying process that is a key part of the Sufi dance,” she notes. “This time around, I began experimenting with other techniques and the style seemed to change. There is also a different mood to the collection, which I think is due to the fact that it reflects my artistic journey over the decade.”
The arrival point is a multi-faceted one, with Shahida’s recognition of the landmarks she has reached both personally and professionally helping to make the show something of a celebration. “I believe that this exhibition is part of a journey that I’m making in many roles, as a daughter, since my mother was born in Lahore, a mother myself, an artist and an independent woman, which is why I have signed these works ‘she’ instead of with my name,” she says. “I’m excited that I’m able to take the audience with me back to the starting point and complete the circle once again.”
“Shahida’s success, both as an award-winning, much-admired artist and in the many broader projects that she continues to oversee, is due in part to her capacity for empathy, honed partly from personal experience, and a keen awareness of her own complex heritage. Not only does she explore her identity as a British Muslim woman with Pakistani roots in her work, but she digs deeper into a past that fascinates her and, she believes, continues to shape her, both as an artist and a person.” says Miriam Dunn.
The exhibition also presents her collection of ceramic works. Shahida uses Islamic calligraphy in her exploration of basic geometric shapes from cubes, spheres to triangles. Geometry and calligraphy have always inspired artists, and Shahida is combining that expression with clay.