Back in June and July I made a series of paintings of body-less dancers titled "If I Could Dance". While I received good feedback from many people, I also feel like I left a lot of people hanging by not having an artist statement to go along with the work. Here I am talking about the values of making "ugly" paintings whilst making (purposefully) "pretty" paintings. Yet it is not so hypocritical as you might imagine - the "prettiness" is part of the message.
I grew up in a culture where my first consciousness about my body was one of shame. I was taught an extreme form of modesty to be culturally sensitive to, and safer in, the norms of Muslim Pakistan. The idea was to become invisible and not react to the stares or calls or groping which my white skin and reddish-blonde hair sticking out in a sea of brown people did not help. I remember being embarrassed at age 8, which led to being self-conscious almost all the way through high school. When I wasn't hiding my body under baggy clothes, I was trying to play sports and pretending to be tough. I thought any attention from the opposite sex was negative, and I scorned the "cheerleader"-type and swore to never be a "girlie-girl". Along with this I tried not to make "pretty" paintings because I wanted to be taken seriously as an artist and my lack of knowledge about successful female artists led me to believe that by simply being a woman my art was at a disadvantage - relegated to the cute category of "hobby".
Then a couples years ago I started to embrace the "girl" inside of me. I started wearing dresses, make-up and jewelry -- heels even! I gained confidence as a woman and decided owning my femininity was to my advantage. But I still resisted it in my art. I now knew about and admired many successful women artists, but I still didn't want to make paintings about gender, again, out of some kind of fear of being taken less seriously. Until this series. I decided I wanted to celebrate the female form, critics of "pretty" paintings be damned! And what better way than through dance? I have always lacked confidence in dancing, but I love watching it - dance inspires me and makes me appreciate the human body even more. I feel connected through dance.
These dresses show the form of the dancer while being body-less because I didn't want to put a face or race or body-type to cloud the universal beauty of dance. One of the amazing things about dance to me is that it can be so expressive and convey whole narratives and complex emotions without a single word, hence negating any language barrier.
I explored different types of dance from around the world because I find them beautiful and I suppose I was being instinctively culturally inclusive. Dance is a celebration of the human body, and I've decided to be a part of it and celebrate in my own way.