From Home Studio to the Gallery Wall
From Home Studio to the Gallery Wall

From Home Studio to the Gallery Wall: Review of NCA Degree Show 2021


It is the end of yet another academic year at the National College of Arts, Lahore where spectacular arrays of art breathe life into this historic institute. A fresh batch of promising young graduates is being ushered from the halls of academia to the world of galleries, collectors, and critics. However, this year you might be forgiven for assuming that this is just another thesis display but that is not the case this time. The Class of 2021 has overcome overwhelming levels of adversity to deliver a memorable showcase of inspiring works by fifty BFA graduates, all the while working during a global pandemic.

Face mask on, leaving the hustle and bustle of Anarkali behind one enters the high ceilinged, white-walled chambers of the Zahoor Ul Akhlaq Gallery where, as McEvilley would have put it “the art is free, as the saying used to go, ‘to take on its own life’” (O’Doherty, 1999, 7). Here we find the works of Qamar Salman, Fatima Tahira and Ayesha Naeem all three of which have isolated particular architectural elements using them to construct unique narratives. Whereas Naeem’s symbol-laden practice focuses on objects of transition and the act of packing up physical spaces like luggage, Salman’s eerie landscapes investigate subconscious memories and feelings of déjà vu while Tahira’s sculptures talk about subverting physical space and how ‘we are all lost’ according to the artist within these frameworks.

‘Uncomfortable Happiness’, Qamar Salman, mixed media, 2020.

Moving on we encounter Maisam Hussain’s installation which harkens back to days of childhood play, overcast by sinister undertones of war. In his mesmerising sketches made using graphite and gunpowder, he records the textures of conflict and the everlasting scars they leave while introspectively dissecting his sense of machismo. Whereas Hussain focuses on external spaces Rameen Pasha investigates those intimate spaces present within all middle-class family households exposing the contrast between the private and the public and sparking conversations about how regardless of gender or social standing, where we live generally remains similar. Ashir Talpur chooses to focus on the mundane, the objects we often overlook and disregard, finding these objects covered in layers of grime he works on changing perceptions through his eye-catching paint application.

‘Roma Jaan’, Rameen Pasha, oil on canvas, 2020.
‘Testament II (a & b)’, Nabeel Majeed, marble, 2020.

Maryam Umar, Nabeel Majeed and Rabeeha Adnan’s practices focus on societal power dynamics and institutional critique. Umar uses her lived experiences to dissect the stereotypical image of the South Asian female and carves into wood and marble those off the cuff remarks, definitions and expectations that society associates with them. Going as far as to use her wedding blouse to emblematically depict the tug of war that is played with women’s autonomy. Meanwhile focusing on the Covid-19 Lockdowns and subsequent inaccessibility to physical teaching Majeed carves books out of marble using them to express his frustration with eBooks and such technological formats that remain unavailable to most. Adnan chooses to investigate how the addition of new information challenges existing power structures by using her nuanced language both visual and actual to explore work and familial relationships. Through the use of projection mapping in Circuit City Ensemble, she explores how through the access of previously withheld information the inanimate band falls out of harmony which causes changes in their expressions, this is in line with Pythagorean notions of harmony and how “the various musical nodes have a different effect on the psychology of individuals”(Eco, 2004, 63).

‘Cloud - Comprehending the Creator’, Rabeeha Adnan, 7 x 13 ft, Mixed Media Installation.
‘Untitled III’, Abdul Hammad, clay, 2020.

Qamar Abbas, Abdul Hammad, Shaheer Hassan and Sundas Shaukat through their multidisciplinary practices produce work on themes of censorship, apparatuses of the state, the tangibility of an image and dissemination of information. Abbas’s work focuses on laws and the power structures they represent, using currency notes and legal articles as his medium he subverts their meaning. Hammad subverts the core materiality of objects thereby altering the context within which they exist such as the 1 Rs coin he cast out of solid gold. Hassan meanwhile invites the viewer to dialogue through his use of words, phrases and legal jargon as his visual language. Sundas meanwhile investigates power structures involved in censorship and expertly subverts these visuals such as by turning private legal documents into chaana packets.

‘Re-creation of Adam’, Shaheer Hassan, pencil on paper, 2020.

“Art does not imitate nature, it imitates a creation, sometimes to propose an alternative world, sometimes to amplify, to confirm, to make social the brief hope offered by nature” (Berger, 1985, 364). Following in this tradition Nimrah Ilyas, Saba Saeed, Shahid Hassan Boni, Danish Kumar and Rizwan Channa have taken inspiration from nature and developed wholly unique pieces. Ilyas’s practise follows in the footsteps of the impressionists as she applies pointillism towards capturing the essence of natural environments. Saeed uses her expressive brushstrokes to depict her surroundings, finding comfort in the meditative process. Boni’s practice revolves around storytelling and the psychological impacts of displacement as he looks introspectively to his natural desires. Meanwhile, Kumar explores the three penultimate stages of existence: life, death, and rebirth. Informed by his unique perspective he ponders themes of fertility and decay. Channa’s work also investigates the erasure of the being and the cycle of life. While Tafsheen Sham’s practice focuses on displacement and overlapping narratives.

‘Landscapes’, Danish Kumar, sand, 2020.

Haroon Zaidi and Ali Hamza’s works are expressionist in style but stem from wholly different points of view. While Hamza focuses on the ‘making process’, body gestures and controlled visual play. Zaidi’s pieces are informed by his Synesthesia which causes him to reach hallucinatory states, where he interprets sound into physical form. Zafar Ali and Muhammad Zubair’s work focuses on appropriation. Ali fuses Western artistic traditions with South Asian miniature techniques, through the removal of figures he brings attention to the background. Zubair on the other hand focuses on recognizable Western classical paintings and adds to them his unique visual language.

Stranger Things, Haroon Zaidi, acrylics on Paper, 2020.

Muhammad Ali and Hooria Khan both make use of demonic and mythological imagery. Ali’s paintings talk about the struggle of man against his tempestuous desires and the destruction they bring. While Khan’s allegories metaphorically depict the oppression of humans in society, by transforming the victims into animals she not only visualises their torment but makes pertinent comments about society as a whole. Similarly, Khuldoon Ahmad Khan uses anime-style imagery to build narrative storylines.

Amala Mushtaq’s practice focuses on interrupted childhood play, through the use of masked figures frozen in various poses.

‘1956’, Khadija-tul-Kubra, oil on canvas, 36 x 60 inches.

Mahnoor Salman, Eemaan Masood, Ramsha Shaheryar Bhatty, Khadija-tul-Kubra and Warda Ahmad’s practice explores Nostalgia. Salman preserves memories as she delicately paints hand detailed letters and pressed flowers, which she sees as a means of freezing the feelings they evoke. For Masood, the colour blue denotes a sense of calm, in her practice, she ponders about how people leaving often result in memories that evokes sadness but can also become a source of strength. Bhatty’s work capture’s a lost 90’s vibe, a time wherein candid photos, even the blurred ones, felt more real and less staged. Khadija-tul-Kubra’s practice explores intimacy, culture, heritage and personal identity by way of focusing on her family and recreating archival images in her personal style. Ahmad’s paintings talk about fragile moments in time, souvenirs of memorable occasions, dried flowers.

Asavir Nadeem, Maryam Mannan, Saher Bukhari, Nooria Ahmed, Zainab Zulfiqar and Mohsin Attiq work on exploring the recesses of the human mind in unique ways. Nadeem makes use of the surrealist practice of Automatism, an uncontrolled outpouring of unconscious thought, she uses this technique to help her give form to themes of dissociation, derealisation, and disconnectedness. Mannan focuses on themes of groundlessness, which she describes as a floating sensation that one feels when they begin to question themselves as a person and as previous identities begin to fade away. Ahmed though her work attempts to convey a foggy state of mind, one so overwhelming that feelings fade away. Bukhari’s art practice was heavily influenced by the lockdown, being isolated in her room she focused on unfulfilled desires and her longing for them. Zulfiqar uses her distinctive visual vocabulary to evoke varying affective responses to the pieces she creates. Attiq works on the complexity of human behaviour, the relationship between the body and mind and how our perceptions are shaped and moulded.

‘Mein aur who’, Zainab Zulfiqar, pencil and ink on Arches sheet, 2021.

Meerish Khan and Durrie Baloch chose to work on commonplace patterns and spaces. Baloch introspectively studies her personality and animates these visuals as a way of understanding the differences present between a viewer’s perspective reality and objective reality. Khan on the other hand paints patterns and sequences isolating them and giving the viewer cause to look at them in more detail.

Saleeha Hamza and Shafaq Khan’s work looks at order and disorder respectively. Hamza depicts intimate spaces like wardrobes and cupboards and focuses on the day-to-day cathartic actions through which we establish routines and reorder chaos. Looking at Khan’s work one can’t help but be enamoured by the meticulous manner in which she depicts her subject matter and the patterns that emerge which is hardly surprising as the artist suffers from mild OCD which has coloured her approach to visual making.

‘Remembering’, Saleeha Hamza, oils on canvas, 2020.

Sana Hussain, Bisma Hussain, Sarah Haider & Hamza Qazi have produced work regarding the body. Sana through her practice makes a series of self-portraits a reflection into the vulnerability of the body and how we absorb what is said and carry it on our skin in the form of invisible scars that only we can see. Bisma meanwhile explores the effects of chronic pain and chronicles her personal experiences, she does this by focusing on her support structures and the positive emotions that spur the healing process. Haider’s focuses on the act of cleansing the body and acts of purification. Qazi’s dramatic paintings focus on the contours of clothing and the limbs, shying away from portraiture as he believes that body gestures convey a truer version of the self.

‘Not Today’, Bisma Hussain, oils on canvas, 78 x 36 inches, 2020.

Sawail Haseem’s work focuses on interpersonal relationships as he locates the characters within his paintings and prints within relaxed situations with most caught in a moment of repose.

Ayaz Memon uses his mastery of colour to convey a sense of peace and love, using pointillism and a bright palette to depict joyful imagery. In contrast, Bazil Habib’s work focuses on spaces and light through his dark and neon colour tones and their interplay through which he establishes geometric abstractions.

In this manner the 2021 BFA Thesis offers an eclectic mix of artistic styles and pertinent themes. Some would argue that the topics touched upon have been seen repeated more than a few times in the past few years but for me it is the variety of unique approaches towards visual making that definitely set this thesis apart. Repetition is after all a hallmark of the field of art itself, just like in the case of (Baden, 2012) which art student hasn’t heard the phrase “everything has been done before” ?  Richard Dawkins (1976)  would argue that it is the human being’s ultimate role as the most refined “Meme Machines” and this, is what sets them apart from the rest of creation. So it is within the distinct differences where these artists stamp their own identity and bring a fresh breath of life to these long standing dialogues.


While 2020 undeniably robbed us of many planned art events and exhibitions, the students, faculty and staff of the National College of Arts, Lahore have come together this year to exhibit the works of art – despite what was, and is still, going on around us. This year fifteen MA Visual Arts students have their display in conjunction with the BFA programme at the historic Tollinton market which allows for the unique possibility of viewing both displays on the same day.

‘Untitled’, Kausar Iqbal, 2020.
(Title unknown) Kausar Iqbal, 2020.

Ramsah Imran takes inspiration from her surroundings focussing on those mundane, mass-produced objects and simplifying the forms of these banal commodities into flat reliefs made out of coloured resin. In this way, the objects pass through the three stages of construction, deconstruction and reconstruction and are ultimately combined to make harmonious collaged compositions. The visuals in this way play with our perceptions as we view these objects, not necessarily how we would find them to be in our reality. Kausar Iqbal through his practice chooses to focus on his roots and the pertinent social issues that have shaped and moulded his upbringing in Malakand. He uses the visual of firearms, moulding and altering them to render their potency flaccid and change their context. Seerat Zainab similarly plays with the concept of human perception and places physical objects in space alongside their painted reproductions or recognisable sound effects which makes the viewer introspectively view how their perception of reality is coloured through conditioning.

‘Untitled’, Syeda Seerat Zainab, oil on canvas, clay objects, 24 x 36 inches, 2021

Sabaa Naz is inspired by the act of creation and the bodies subsequent infusion with the soul which brings forth life. As visual references, she used close up images of hands and feet which in the magnified monochromatic play of form and shadow transformed them into something more than these innocuous extremities, something that is almost explicit or sexual in nature. Saba chalks this complicated transition to how our perception changes the closer we get.

‘Untitled’, Sabaa Naz, graphite on canvas, 4ft x 8 ft, 2020

Muzammal Khan’s work stems from a deep-rooted fascination with fabrics coupled with his interest in Giles Deleuze’s theory regarding repetition, which according to him can be described as a wholly unique series of things or events i.e “difference without concept” (Deleuze, 24). In this way, Khan focuses on the structure of jute showing the repetition in its structure.

bɒoЯ beehahƧ ɿɒɿɿɒZ 𐐒-1 ql-I, Ume Laila, print and wood, 30x 30 inches, 2020.

Ume Laila’s work focuses on interpersonal relationships, especially those metaphorical distances existing between members of the same household. She uses three-dimensional photo collages to reconstruct these private spaces as visual representations of these unsettling relationships. Looking at the pieces it’s almost as if one has peeled away the walls of these houses to peek inside. In contrast, Fatema shahid’s finds the familial unit to be a system of support and through caricature portrays the quirks and oddities of those she is closest to, visuals of home permeate the work as she thinks of it as her comfort zone – where she can truly be herself.

‘First of the month, Fatema Shahid, Oil on canvas, 44 x 37 inches, 2020
‘Untitled’, Hadiqa Aamir, latex and pigments, 74 x 60 x 13 inches, 2019.

Hadiqa Aamir’s practice deals with traumatic experiences and their psychological imprints and how these incidents shape how an individual perceives the world. She uses latex sheets to convey the fragility of human skin which can so easily be broken, bruised and scarred. Similarly, Izza Ishfaq explores memories of childhood and how they shape an individual’s present-day experiences. In particular, she is interested in the duality of human existences through diametrically opposed processes like growth and decay. She conveys these reflections through the sculptural interventions she makes using a variety of materials from resin to plastic bags.

‘School Bag’, Izza Ashfaq, resin, 15 x 13 x 6 inches.

Mahnoor Tahir’s practice picks apart those transcendental daily journeys in which one’s mind begins to wander and get lost in the land of daydreams. She uses her illustrative skills to not only preserve these moments of travel and reflect but also to engage the viewer so that their imagination might be sparked, and they may begin their very own journey.

‘Untitled’ sketch, Mahnoor Tahir, sketchbook, 2020.

Maha Sohail’s work revolves around the familial bond between mothers and daughters and the representation of these feminine attachments. Using meticulously collected references she weaves these maternal narratives into existence as through her process drawings are converted into sculptures and sculptures later drawn on to paper.

Fizza Hussain’s paintings are dotted with animals which she paints to be metaphorical representations of the people in her life. She depicts them as specific animals based on how the animal characteristically behaves and builds narratives around how they responded to certain situations. Fizza finds untainted nature to be the closest thing possible to the sublime and thus also focuses on how mankind marks and destroys this essence through their selfish acts.

‘Sisters’, Fizza Hussain, acrylic paints on canvas, 12.4 x 6.2 inches, 2020.

Tahir Ali Sadiq sees his practice through the lens of a visual biographer, surveying his surroundings in particular architectural symbols that are present throughout the work he creates. In his current series of work, he has brought influences of western art to his traditionalist style of South Asian miniature. Similarly, Murk Malik’s practise also focuses on feelings of nostalgia, displacement, loss, and the strong influence of the presence of childhood memories that keep recurring and shaping an individual’s future which she depicts through her architectural painting style.


Baden, E. (2012). Everything Has Been Done Before  [online] Marginalia: the Graduate Student Blog. Available at: <> (Accessed 7 April 2021)

Berger, J. (1985). John Berger: Selected Essays – Edited by Geoff Dyer. Newyork, Pantheon Books.

Dawkins, R. (1976). The Selfish Gene: 40th Anniversary Edition. Oxford: Oxford Landmark Science 2016. Available at <> (Downloaded: 17 September 2019)

Deleuze, G. (1994). Difference and Repetition: Translated by Paul Patton. New York, Columbia University Press.

Eco, U. (2004). History of Beauty: Edited By Umberto Eco. [First Edition] Newyork, RizzoliI International Publications, Inc.

O’Doherty, B. (1999). Inside the White Cube: The Ideology of the Gallery Space. [Expanded Edition] London, University of California Press, Ltd.

Haseeb Ullah Zafar is an independent curator, researcher, writer, and artist. His current interests lie in investigating the intricacies of born-digital artistic practices and the curator’s role within the labyrinthine socio-cultural context of the Internet. He investigates the visual art form of ‘Internet Memes’, electronic cultural currency propagated by humans in their millions on a daily basis, that which are being displayed with increasing frequency within physical spaces by unpacking the value structures involved in their commissioning, exhibiting, and collecting within the art ecosphere. Haseeb holds an MA in Curating Contemporary Art from the Royal College of Art, London and a BFA in Visual arts from the National College of Arts, Lahore. He is currently based in Lahore, Pakistan and is the curatorial assistant for the Ambiance Boutique Art Hotels.

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