Elif Rahemtullah critiques the work of Summaiya Jillani, a young upcoming Pakistani artist who with her unique style is mixing things up in the Pakistani art scene.
Karachi based artist, Summaiya Jillani strikes a fine balance. Her works are steeped in motifs which are unique to Pakistani culture yet they possess a certain universal allure.
It is easy to find an affinity with Jillani's pieces. For a Pakistani, they give hope and provide reassurance in Pakistan's heritage and talent. Upon opening up her work to a wider international audience, Jillani's artwork becomes unreservedly welcoming. The use of iconic imagery creates an accessible environment which calls for a reassessment of the established narrative on the state of Pakistan.
Jillani converges a number of easily recognisable figures from popular culture with a Pakistani aesthetic and then presents them in a spectrum of striking arrangements. It is clear that her works cannot be restricted to any singular form of artistic expression, rather, they bear an endearing universality in their charm. By drawing upon emblems to engage both sides of the international field, Jillani presents pieces that showcase symbols of mass appeal which function to stimulate a cross-cultural dialogue.
In one piece, Jillani conducts a transformation of Marilyn Monroe, replacing the classic white dress which has become a quintessential symbol of old Hollywood glamour with traditional Pakistani attire, adorned with the captivating patterns that cover Pakistani textiles. The ingenious mixture of bold colour and charming imagery reestablishes the cosmopolitan character of the artist's bustling home city of Karachi and captures the spirit of the nation on canvas. The title of this, one of her more popular paintings, 'Baar baar dekho, hazaar baar dekho', incites us to look back on Karachi and moreover Pakistan from a more amiable stance because after all, Jilllani reminds us that the nation still has much to offer.
If we seek the voice of Pakistan in Jillani's work then it shouts loud and clear that Pakistan remains the bearer of rich cultural elements that should not be overshadowed by the current political disorder. Jillani's work deflects the negativity which has recently come to be associated with Pakistan and projects a brave and compelling rendering of the nation which suitably characterises its resilience in the face of upheaval.
Words by Elif Rahemtulla