By: Lababa Naqvi
I never thought that a carrot would be the source of my inspiration. Somehow I still remember every single detail of it. It was 1982 I was in my school hall, grade One in American Montessori school in Dubai and we were having our leisure time meaning we were free to do anything we want to. Most of the children were playing with legos. I don’t remember why but I went for a drawing book and some colour pencils. I drew a big carrot and coloured it bright orange with a shade of red here and there. “Wow what a yummy carrot you drew Lababa!” This was my English Teacher Mrs D’souza .Then I heard her saying to another teacher Mrs Banerji that Lababa’s writing is okay but her drawing is excellent. It was then that I realised that my teacher thinks that I have something special.
I started drawing religiously. My mum got me water colours, crayons and a big sketch book. I used to draw Indian women wearing colourful Sarees. I really loved drawing different motives on their sarees and then using vibrant colours to colour them. But as time passed I somehow stopped drawing.
It was February 1993. Everything seemed meaningless and I felt miserable. Lying on a big high bed in a huge beautiful room, big glass wall through which I could see a beautiful garden with two Most Beautiful peacocks dancing around and yet nothing mattered to me. Every inch of my body inside and out was in terrible pain as this luxurious room was a VIP room in a hospital in Pakistan. I was diagnosed with a football size tumour in my left ovary which was removed by surgery. But was suggested to go through Chemotherapy. Never have I thought that something can be so devastatingly painful. My hospital room had a huge TV , VCR , a stock of movies all arranged by my parents thinking it might help me cheer up even if it was for a few minutes. But nothing helped. Chemo badly reacted to my body and after Five days of severe torture it was finally stopped as my father and I took a stand that I didn’t need Chemo and one of my doctors supported our decision. I was discharged but the after effects of Chemo had started. I was extremely weak and the depression I felt was something only a chemo patient can understand. But I am someone who would never give up no matter what. I didn’t know what to do and didn’t feel interested in anything at all. But then suddenly I knew what I had to do. My parents got me some scholar sheets, brushes and water colours on my request. And there I was painting my way through depression. I drew everything that I saw, trees, clouds, birds, glass, cups, portraits everything. I had no art education then, so my drawings and paintings were not perfect or mature but I felt happy, felt very useful. Believe me starting art again really helped me. It sort of faded away my depression. I wanted to do something more. I asked my mum if she could get me some foam sheets, the colourful ones and some embellishments with glue. I was provided with everything I needed and I knew what I was going to do. I made Picture frames, dozens of them for every single family member and friend that supported me when I was in the hospital. They were amazed to see my handmade picture frames. I felt happy and good after a long long time. Felt a little proud of myself not in a snobbish way of course but in a good way as I realised that I can do good art.
I always knew that my mum had interest in Art. But one day she told me that she wanted to pursue art as a career and wanted to really study art. But the only Art College back then was in Lahore and my mum was in a different city and wasn’t allowed to move to Lahore in a hostel as my grandfather felt it really difficult to send her young daughter to live in a hostel far from them. She said that I reminded her of her younger self and that if I want to study art I should.
So I took admission in Karachi Arts Council to pursue my passion for Art. I enjoyed every single bit of my time in my Art College. Every Monday was dedicated for life drawing sessions which meant we were to draw for 7 hours .We used to have people model for us so we can draw them. Most of the times these models were picked from the streets, most of them were beggars maybe even druggies. But it was really very interesting to draw all these different faces as each one of them had a different character and to capture that character in our drawings was the actual task.
Georgia O’Keeffe one of my all time favourites. I’ve always loved O’Keefe’s use of colour and shape with that touch of surrealism. I knew I wanted to do my thesis on something related to nature and I chose flowers. And as I have always been inspired by O’Keefe’s style of painting flowers I did my 3rd year thesis on Flowers. They were oil paintings done on triangular canvases and by the Grace of Allah my work was very well appreciated.
It was 2001 the most important year of my life as it was the final year of my Art education and I was supposed to submit my final thesis. It was super exciting for me as I, for the final year, chose my favourite art form. My major in the final year was Sculpture. Never did I once imagined that my excitement would take a different route. My fate was decided and I was engaged to be married in a month with my first cousin. It was as if lightening had struck me as he would have been the last person on earth I would have wanted to ever marry. Not that he wasn’t a good guy or something. He was a decent guy. But then you don’t marry any decent guy you come across. Somethings are bound to happen and no matter how much I tried, a month later I was under his nikkah. My world literally was finished for me. It was the end for me, end of my dreams end of my happiness, all gone. And to top it up my thesis was due the same year. I’m Finished! That was what I felt to be very honest.
As I said earlier I don’t give up easily. Infact I never give up. I was under a lot of stress and depression, believe me I found it extremely difficult to even put a fake smile on my face. I decided to put all my energy on my work and express all my grief, anger and sadness through it.
Manzar Akbar Hall was filled with visitors, Photographers Artists etc. It was the final thesis display day. I was engaged in my thoughts when I heard my teacher calling out my name. He seemed very excited. He said that a whole lot of people wanted to see me. I went to where my work, my huge sculptures, were displayed and saw people of different age groups looking at my work. I greeted them saying “ Hi, I’m Lababa Naqvi and this is my work” They acted as if I was kidding or something. One of them said we were expecting a male and didn’t know that a fragile girl can create such strong and powerful Art work.
ENTRAPMENT : The topic of my thesis was Entrapment and I all my sculptures portrayed my inner feelings. They were 7 sculptures all together. Five of them were casted in plaster of Paris, one in paper mache, and one in jute. My major piece was two sculptures joined from the bust below but facing opposite directions. When asked I explained that when People are bound to live together or when people are forced to marry someone they don’t want to this is exactly how they are. They are bound together but their hearts their minds are never one they are always poles apart. I and my work was so well appreciated that I was amazed as how people were gathering over to see my work. It was as if most of the people could relate to my sculptures. I had a special visitor that day. She was and still is a very famous Poet in Pakistan and sorry can’t quote her name. After seeing my work and knowing the theory behind it she hugged me with tears in her eyes and said I deserve all the best from life. Then she took my comment book and wrote a quote that she said she created that very moment for me. It was in urdu and it said “ Tum ne Jeet lia hai mera dil, Meri katha apne hathon se bana ker”!! Which meant “You’ve won my heart by creating my life story with your hands! This was truly a Wow moment for me.
The point is I’m really glad that I found peace in doing art. And for people who are really interested in doing art but think it’s maybe too late for them to start or maybe they don’t have the right qualification or talent or maybe not that confidence to start doing art, I would simply say, just draw whatever you can. For starters grab some white computer sheets and just draw horizontal lines across the page with the distance of 1 cm without using a ruler. keep doing this for atleast a week or till you think your lines are straight and not shaky. Once you’ve done this move to the second step. Draw shapes, circle, square and triangle again without using a ruler. You will know when to stop.
These exercises will make you confident enough to atleast start drawing, I promise. The key is to draw every single day even if it’s for 30 minutes. But just draw!!!
The colourful journey of my life is till going strong, and at every sharp turn, I find that my inner strength keeps me going by coming out as my art. I am excited to see where my drawings take me next.