The Purposeful Mayonnaise

June 30, 2023: Lariab Ahmad Interview

Lariab Ahmad

is a visual artist and published writer concurrently working in the field of community development and strategy. She is an alumnus of McKinsey Academy (2023) and was awarded a distinction for her BFA Thesis Show by the National College of Arts in 2019. Taking from science, art, faith, and philosophy, Lariab’s research focuses on the existence of phenomena in seamless continuumsof time and space.

Lariab’s trajectory is borderless, presenting in physical and virtual spaces. She has been featured by initiatives and international magazines including the UK, Sri Lanka, India, and the USA. Her works are also permanently housed in Brazil and Turkey. Additionally, Lariab has multiple published literary pieces, recently by LitLight Publications.

With a newfound appreciation for clean air, Lariab currently resides in Islamabad, a city south of the Himalayan foothills in Pakistan.

Website:   Instagram: @lariab_ahmad

Tell us a bit about yourself...

I am currently living in the hilly area of Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan located south of the Himalayan foothills. My earliest memory of intentionally engaging with visuals comes from a biology lab in 2013. I had just dissected a frog and I was going to record my findings in a journal. Each record included diagrams acting as a medium of documentation. These drawings became my muse when the biology lab was paired with botanical studies. Although there was less smell and horror in the eyes, the flowers were hard to examine, their delicate cross-sections under the microscope showing layers upon layers of strangely familiar life. It took time for me to start taking liberties, eventually, the drawings became playful. The curiosity seeped through the walls of the lab and I took a year break to observe the art community in Karachi (the commercial capital located at the southern tip of the Arabian Sea coast). I got my BFA admission in 2015 and since then, my life has been wrapped in the chaos of formless forms and gorgeous colours. My career in the art industry is accredited to our lovely mysterious sea of darkmatter and energy. 

What themes or ideas are you exploring in your art practice?

My research focuses on the existence of phenomena in seamless continuums of time and space guided by osmosis between science, art, faith, and philosophy. My BFA thesis – the study of dreams, particularly how can a conscious connect to anything wildly unrelated to its surroundings – extended into an investigation of phenomena including but not limited to Beauty, Perfection, Justice, Health, Control, and Goodness. I build on the theory of a participatory universe: phenomena do not naturally exist; they rest oninformation gained by the observers 

(us)   through questioning the universe. By participating, we create and continuously change them. Therefore, the presence of any phenomenon is a consequence of our efforts at understanding it, not executing it. As any observer that creates their reality by participation, my existence by its very nature is a paradox because I never resolve into one thing over the other but flow between many. Me (the observer), thus my reality is in two states of energy simultaneously: an inquiry and an explanation. I am the question and its answer.

Can you tell us about your process and materials?

I practice colour mixing and writing as sessions separate from the production of a work, the creation itself is unintentional asuncertainty and mortality are inseparable. This way of living is something I enjoy incorporating into my process, it is not planned, it may not be balanced and it is based on experiences larger than the boundaries of art. In the spirit of embracing uncertainty, the materials used are as desired/needed – different paints, pencils, paper and printing techniques, threads and fabrics, textures, digital tools, found objects, recently thermocol and hopefully more to come.

What does a day in the studio look like for you?

Studio practice is like a seasonal thing. Only the essential is produced in the summer rainy season (June – September). These months are more about reading and writing, actively imaginative mindset, consequently the essential is often a completely new approach to the subject. The spring season (March–May) is mostly about resolving any pending winter work, maybe a couple of new inspired pieces. More is produced in retreating monsoons and winters (October-February), in terms of quantity. These works are based on quick decision making hence new scales and compositions. Summer works are anthologies (connected to one core but each stands on its own) and winter works are series (connected to each other). I don’t take the works in the next year: if they are not sold in exhibitions or otherwise; they are either exchanged with artists or gifted. They are no editions either. Studio practice in the 21st century is akin to a potion made in a witch’s cauldron as opposed to a traditional idea of inhabiting space: it’s a magic that evolves with a mind of its own due to increased connectivity, even when I am on a break or asleep, it is continuously being influenced by everything. 

What does it mean to you to be an artist in today’s world?

A major part of my practice is about owning my agency. It has always been critical for me to break away from the approaches, both conscious and subconscious, that once defined people of my country as subjects in a colony. It is important to step out of ‘what is being defined as South Asianart/artists’ and/or ‘what is 

expected of South Asian art/artists’. In continuation of that, I am also careful not to be the one person defining South Asian art/artists. I stand by art as an evolving universal language unique to an individual and setting boundaries around it is unjust to those who do not consider pre-existing takes on identities when creating. Whenever I introduce myself/my practice, it is by my name and that’s that, never the ‘South Asian brand’. To me, that would be similar to saying a female scientist instead of a scientist or a woman artist instead of an artist. Work can be bigger than any gender or region. Right now, I am all about intentional unlearning and relearning.

Do you actively search for inspiration or wait for inspiration to find you?

Neither, not really. My practice is research based so I am always doing something about it. It’s like eating, it’s nature. Currently, I am reading A Brief History of Space and Time by Stephen Hawking. And these lyrics from two underrated songs: An Affair with the Moon by Lidia Solomon say ‘I still remember the first night that she called me out of my womb, No, I wouldn't dare try to deny it, I've fallen in love with the moon’ and when Billianne in A Little Older says ‘Cause I've been growing out of all the places I loved, a little lost and found but not getting back that old stuff’. Between the critical and the romantic, I lean towards the romance in creating: the mind is an assistant to the heart.

What’s the most peculiar thing/situation that sparked your inspiration?

The drawing of a frog I dissected. Sadly somewhere in a landfill, sold for an amount I cannot recall and probably treated myself to good food (the only pleasure that competes with creating in my life). 

Tell us about future projects.

There are two ongoing community projects: Lfaa Community has been able to help out new names in the national art scene last year. We did a collaborative show with a local gallery in December, curated by Muhammad Awab Nouman, an up-and-coming artist/curator. It was inspired by an animation titled ‘Red Light Area’. All red walls and a socio-political take on paradoxes. The second project Somr Community is a digital version of a telephone line that I use to converse and write intersectional pieces. There are two new collaborative projects in the pipeline – a free editorial run by members of the South Asian community discussing generational traumas, injustices induced by class system, etc., and acreative investigation of 4th dimension – that I am hoping to launch next year. 

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