By Kamran Rehmat
Doha-based Shazia Bhanji is a narrative paper sculpture artist from Pakistan who has an enchanting array of work that can blow you away. Her portfolio spans a wide range, but is mostly based on the narration of human stories and emotions. Over the years she has found various techniques in how to manipulate and bend paper to make these magnificent masterpieces.
Paper is one of the tremendous artistic chameleons. This easily accessible material that’s used in crafting incredible, gallery-worthy works of art is the same that contains crude sketchbook doodles never meant to see the light of day. It’s this fascinating dichotomy that entices creatives to experiment and use paper art as the centrepiece of their work.
In an interview with Community, Shazia provides a more in-depth look at her background, process and how she got to where she is today. Excerpts.
Tell us about your background and what path led you to what you are doing now?
I grew up in Lahore, Pakistan, at a time when it was easy to jump on our bicycles and roam the city. Far less traffic and far more areas where nature was untouched. I think that gave me an appreciation to observe and explore things the same way I approach art. Observing things as they are and exploring ways of representing them is how I like to work.
As a child, I was very creative in using everything I could find around me to create gifts for my family and friends. Imagine a picture of flowers made of rice and pasta or photo collages, felt figures, etc. At first, I wanted to be a painter, but found that working with something more tactile like gently coaxing paper to do things came more naturally to me.
I eventually went to learn how to draw and paint with leading artists in the country, but that was when paper sculpture found me instead. The realisation that working with paper is what I enjoy as it gives me the passion and driving force to immerse in every project I work on, I didn’t have a choice, so I put down my paint brushes and picked up an X-Acto knife instead.
What is a Paper Sculpture? How diverse is this form of art? What responses do you get from the audience?
This is one of the most frequently asked questions. Being a Paper Sculpture Artist involves working with paper in all its forms. It can be cut, bound, curved, glued, modelled, sculpted, built, and worked in many other ways — the goal being the creation of a stunning piece of décor, an architecture or an ambiance.
But wherever I’m exhibiting my artworks at an exhibition, there is always someone who asks me, “What is it? What is it made of?” And then I reply, Paper. Usually, it’s followed by how is it held together? And that’s what I love about creating artworks with paper. It is such a novel idea, has tremendous potential to create a WOW moment, and it encourages the audience to inquire more about it.
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