Thursday, September 8, 2011

Interview with Simeen Farhat

Insceced, cast resin, 2011
photo used with permission from Simeen Farhat

I went to visit Simeen Farhat in her large apartment/studio.  She lives in one of those now-rare-in-Dallas early 20th century four-plex apartments that have high ceilings and reach far back into the lot providing for a number of large rooms.  Like most artists, her works in process were present from the front door to the back.  She was preparing for multiple upcoming exhibits both in Texas and abroad.
Simeen in one of the rooms of her studio

Simeen started off by showing me around each room in which she performs her various processes separately.  In the room pictured above, she cuts the word or phrase shapes out of MDF and then creates latex molds.  She has molds for each word or small phrase for many of the different cluster sculpture and installations that she creates.  She pours resin in the molds in another room and allows them to set up in various rooms.  She also showed me a small pressure chamber that she uses to set the crystal and translucent resins which helps them retain clarity rather than becoming too cloudy.

detail of one element "most"

Simeen has been sculpting using painted wood forming words and phrases in Urdu.  She creates her own stylized fonts, though many of us in the States have not been able to pick out the words we see represented in her stylized Arabic script.  For her exhibitions at Anya Tish Gallery and Kirk Hopper Fine Art, Simeen has started to use English translations.  The picture above shows one of the word elements that she later combined into a cluster sculpture.  The word "most" is shown above in her own stylized font - see the "m" moving from the far left to the far right; the "o" and "s" overlap the middle bottom of the "m", and the "t" sticks up above the "m" as it rises out of the "o".  For these two exhibitions, Simeen has chosen Edward Fitzgerald's English translations of Omar Khayyam's poetry

Morphed, cast resin, 2011
photo used with permission from Simeen Farhat 

The translucent resin has allowed Simeen to add extra layers of conceptual meaning to her works.  The dark rich brown color of the elements in Morphed shown above call to mind both the henna dyes that women of the Sub-Continent adorn their skin as well as the glass bottles of Shiner Beer.  We see both sides of Simeen's past and present cultures coming together.  She also showed me icy blue resin pieces and smokey gray works as seen in "most" above.  Anya Tish's press release tells us this about the exhibition and Simeen's work:
"Anya Tish Gallery is pleased to announce the opening of Word, Object, Motion, an exhibition of contemporary Islamic art, featuring the work of Dallas-based Pakistani artist Simeen Farhat, and Houston-based Iraqi artist Mohammed Al Shammarey. Both artists take inspiration from classical Persian and Urdu poetry, dealing with subjects of human struggle and emotions, freedom of thought and expression. Farhat’s sculptures, created from wood and/or cast resin, explode from the wall, forming three-dimensional manifestations of Urdu and Farsi poems. The sculptures’ compositions, sinuous Pashto calligraphy, present the viewer with many layers of meaning. The shadows cast by the intricately layered forms, bring to mind whispers, as if the words that cast them have just been spoken. Farhat’s work, both original and visually striking in execution, provides a fascinating commentary on present-day perceptions of Islamic culture."

 3 sculptures in her 2008 MAC exhibition
front Shroud of Silence
back left Body Language
back right We Won't Kill You (installation)
photo used with permission from Simeen Farhat

HC: How are your new works different from the exhibition you had at the McKinney Avenue Contemporary in September 2008?
SF: The MAC show was more political. This one is less so, and I want to see how people react. I call these speech bubbles, in a way, because they are like the bubble 'pops'. They are not my words, of course - I'm not a poet yet, maybe I don't want to do poetry - I'm a visual person.
HC: right, visual poetry
SF: this is visual. What I do is poetic dynamism into visual energy.
HC: ah, that is beautiful
SF: that's how I describe my work. It's not that you go read it right there, don't go try to read it. I mean, I will provide the reference and you can go read it. These are like music. When you hear a song, you know, there is poetry there, but what you're really attracted to, especially if it is very melodic and all, is the music, the sound of the lyrics.
HC: right
SF: and even some people reciting sounds so beautiful. You know if you just read something (she shrugs) but with some people even the reciting is so beautiful and it is really appealing. And from where I come, poetry and even philosophy also, and all the poets I use are philosophers, they're talking about life and all these things, and they are timeless. So I am also looking for some contemporary <music and poetry> that is timeless with a lot of philosophy. What I'm trying to get at also is questioning all these things happening in the world. That's how I started it out. In a way, questioning my own culture that I come from. And why is there all this chaos in the world. We are all just human beings, accept the differences and similarities, and be more open to other cultures. And why Sufi, I mean, Sufism had been part of the Islamic culture, and it was very passionate and loving and talking about humanity as opposed to what we see in YaNabi Islam.

Expulsion, fabric, painted-wood, wire, 2009, variable dimensions
photo used with permission from Simeen Farhat

HC: Your 2008 show at the MAC, as you said, was a bit more politically driven, but now you're moving into aspects of life and finding commonalities and relationships between the different peoples and how we're not that different.
SF: yeah, and now the work is becoming less political, it's still political in a way, but the political aspect has become less drastic, it has become more subtle. I mean, it's still there, and I'm making the smoke, I reference it to a lot of things happening, you know, like wild fires or mushroom clouds or something. Now it is more about humanity, like us being who we are, you know these kind of questions. And of course it's visual art. I'm not a politician or a diplomat, you know, I mean I can be a diplomat in the sense of artistic diplomacy. So enjoy it visually.

Smoldering, cast resin, 2011
photo used with permission from Simeen Farhat

HC: So you're going to have a piece up in a project space at Kirk Hopper Fine Art starting September 3 with opening reception on September 10th. And you're in a two person show at Anya Tish Gallery in Houston starting September 9th, the reception is that night also. And then you've got a solo show coming up at La Fontaine Centre of Contemporary Art in Bahrain...
SF: yeah, that show was supposed to be in March, but it got postponed because two weeks before the show was supposed to open, then all this revolution things started up there so it got postponed. Now it opens October 28th. Then I'm also in Abu Dhabi Art Fair and then Contemporary Istanbul art fair.
HC: Is someone taking your work to these art fairs, a gallery, or are you presenting in some type of artist project?
SF: XVA Dubai gallery is taking my work. My gallery in London, Xerxes Art, took my work last year, but they aren't participating this year. I had a solo show at Xerxes last year, too.

one of the works that exhibited in her solo show at Twelve Gates Art Gallery, Philadelphia PA, March 4 - April 30, 2011
photo used with permission from Simeen Farhat

HC: What is your greatest challenge with exhibiting your work outside of the US?
SF: One of the challenges for my art and these shows - shipping.  To make sure everything....especially with my work, oh my god, so that is one reason why also I switched from wood to these resin because they are more durable. They are more archival, and more professional, you know.  They're more forgiving, but also they are more playful to work.  I've been doing a lot of experimenting. I put them in the microwave, I do a lot of these things or maybe use a heat gun, and maybe getting all these twist shapes so they actually are giving me more flexibility.
SF: Since the show at the MAC two years ago, I haven't shown much locally.  I had a two person show at Anya Tish last year with Paul Booker.
HC: Oh, I bet your works looked good together.
SF:  yeah. Anya was perhaps the first gallery in Texas, like main stream galleries, who, you know, believed in my work.  And now Lillian at Kirk Hopper Fine Art is taking the chance and showing my work.

After my studio visit we went and ate at a Vietnamese Buffet a few blocks away.  She continued to tell me the history of Pakistan.  We compared similarities we find in the Muslim faith practice to those of Catholics and other Evangelical Christians - such as fasting for a month once a year, male only clerics, priests, and ministers, oppression of gays and other lesser societal roles for women in general.  I told Simeen that I find her to be a very brave woman and artist and I highly respect her art's message. Simeen has taken a leave from teaching at the University of Texas Arlington to afford her time to make art and to accommodate her extensive travel schedule from this fall into early spring 2012. Simeen is also scheduled to have a solo exhibition this fall at Art Chowk Gallery in her hometown of Karachi, Pakistan.


  1. Very nice article Hampton!

    Word to the wise: The pictures Hampton included with this article look great, but they still don't do the work justice. You will definitely be missing out if you don't go see her work at Kirk Hopper's or Anya Tish's gallery in person this weekend.

  2. Amazing artist and a great person. Wish you success with the new upcoming exhibits!