Thajba Najeeb is a Bahraini artist with roots in Pakistan. She works with vibrant colors that illustrate her colorful world and recently also showcased in Karachi. Ink has an exclusive chat with Thajba about art, creativity, and her work.
I am told I am an artist- a very big title when these are the likes of Gustav Klimt, Pollock and Van Gogh. So, let’s start from the beginning,
I am thajba Najeeb- rooted in the island of Bahrain and stringing along my love for Lahore, Pakistan and its history- I am a multi-potentialite- by day I am an IB and high school teacher at Ibn Khuldoon National School Bahrain, a mother to 2 pieces of my spirit, a wife, a friend, a daughter, sister, advisor, mentor and by night- I run a private studio space- Art Commune by Artology with my sisters Reem Najeeb and Amna Qureshi. Oh yeah- and an artist, creative soul, music enthusiast, bathroom singer and a free spirit.
Having studied interior design in the States and Dubai, I thrived on the money oriented materialistic world that was interior design in the Middle East. I was overworked and managed to spend close to no hours with my family. I took a break and realized that teaching was my calling- I don’t know whether I just love the sound of my voice but I came to realize that I had the ability to transfer knowledge, skill, technique and passion to young creative souls. I opened Artology with my sister in 2008 as a space for self-growth, exploration and discovery and it soon became a beautiful mess- art studio. Artology studio became a space where students were not judged, reprimanded or questioned and were allowed to express themselves with no barriers and inhibitions.
My childhood –
Music, literature, poetry and dance echoed in the halls of the Najeeb House- Yathreb. Working in the Ministry in Bahrain, my father promoted the culture of Pakistan. The voices of Ahmed Faraz, Amjad Islam Amjad and Zia Moyiuddin filled the ‘mehfils’ where nightingales sang. My mother- my strength and my backbone- sings like a nightingale. She is my biggest cheerleader and supports every decision and choice I have had to make or have made. I grew up in a house of 3 brothers and 1 sister- I have a very beautiful relationship with my brothers, my bhabhis and my sister- my nephews and nieces. They are my family and friends- my biggest fans and supporters.
2. Tell us about Print and Night which you showcased recently at Commune Artist Colony in Karachi, and was there a specific inspiration behind it?
I am having a love affair with Lahore.
4 years back, I was very keen to connect with a culture and place that I honestly didn’t know a lot about. I remember going to Lahore every year with the family and spending hours in my chachu’s house with my cousins and family. When I was younger, I never understood this connection and didn’t want to be a part of it. It was only 4 years ago, I had the desire to rekindle this connection- I yearned for this connection and couldn’t understand why I didn’t have it. My father passed away when I was 21 years old and I lost him. I couldn’t remember his voice or his habits. But I found my parents youth in Lahore. I found him in Lahore and I didn’t want to lose him again. I am in a whirlwind romance with Lahore and enjoyed this connection- vibrant colors of my childhood, memories of my father and conversations with my mother that I have till present.
This print and night series is part of this love affair. Infatuated with buildings and the concept that people are moving energies, I find buildings to be static monuments with untold and silenced stories. These buildings I capture in my works. My previous collections took Lahore out of the dark and mirrored them in fluorescents, brush strokes and colors. So the print and night series collection is based on repetition- as exciting as the beat of the drum is, these buildings repeat themselves in different shades and values of color to tell a different tale. Most of my artworks have my signature circle ‘da’ira’, which is symbolic of the sun, moon and infinity- the never ending cycle. However each application of the moon varies from spray paint to modelling paste I uses techniques of mono-printing, stencil prints layered with collage, ink, acrylic, spray paint, marker and pen to highlight the hidden layers of historical traditional buildings and their untold stories.
3. How was the experience and how has the feedback been in Pakistan so far?
In the last few years, my visits to Pakistan have become more frequent. I work closely with the Artist Colony Commune Karachi and have successfully launched my 2 collections over there. Both collections have been very well received and I love their reactions- they are intoxicated by the bold colors and love the vibrancy in the artwork. I love the creative energy flow that exists and resonates at the Commune- like minded conversations infused with all the creative expression all under one roof. The Commune is the perfect amalgamation of expression.
4. What does “being creative” mean to you?
I am the type of person who smiles and plays with the sun in the morning. I get inspired by the sun and love the toasty feeling I get. I hear music in the wind and rhythm in the chirping of the birds and the buzzing of the bees. So ‘being creative’ is when there is no barrier between work and passion. When work becomes your passion- you’ve found your calling. If I can successfully influence any person, a child, student, adult, artist, creative soul with a though that sparked a relay effect onto something bigger and better- that is my success. This is creativity- sharing with all, no egos and being aware- with yourself, your world and the Ultimate.
5. Can you describe the time when you first realized that creating art was something you absolutely had to do?
Having done IB art in high school and also a degree in fine arts, I don’t think that was the point where I realized art was what I wanted to do for the rest of the life. It was perhaps only 6 years ago- when I hit 30, I decided this is what I wanted to do. I desired to be around creative souls who would give me a drop of inspiration and I yearned for the desire to express myself positively on a canvas with a stroke, a color or a medium. I realized when I taught a student, I was passing on pieces of my and pieces of my spirit to everyone and I didn’t want anything back. That’s when I realized I wanted to do this. I wanted nothing back in return.
6. The use of color seems to be very apparent and important in your work. How would you describe your art?
I call my art- a beautiful mess.
Vibrant, colorful, playful, emotional and inviting.
I don’t see in black and white. I see everything in hues, values and color. I don’t like the black and white because i believe we don’t have to be so vague (white) and abrupt (black) in my life. Everything is intermixable, our flexibility allows us to be accepting and be human.
7. What’s your favorite thing you’ve ever created and why is it your favorite?
That’s like asking which one of your children do you love the most.
I don’t have favorites because I think every painting of mine is so close to me that when I complete it she holds a different journey and has a different space in my heart.
8. What are you trying to communicate through your art?
I always say everyone is an artist; you just haven’t found the right way of expression.
What am I trying to communicate?
A story- I communicate moments and stories that are interchangeable. So if you were to look at one my pieces and remember a memory that you long forgot- then a connection has happened. I long to communicate in silence, through colors, brush strokes and texture. In my love affair collection, I could remember the smell of jalebi on the street, I could hear the man screaming pakoray and I could smell the wet sand, the horses and the goats. I loved how I was so connected to a city through my senses. At one of my exhibitions a few years back, one art lover came to me and said ‘thank you thajba, you have taken me to my childhood, my home and my youth.’ I was honored.
9. Which creative medium would you love to pursue but haven’t yet?
My most feared medium- sculpture. i find 3 D art, whether its clay to recycled sculptures so challenging because I think in 2D and find it difficult to translate into the 3rd dimension. Alhumdullilah I love taking on challenges- it’s perhaps one of the only ways I would grow as an artist person or teacher.
10. What process do you go through when creating a piece of art?
I work very closely with my sketchbook- I write a lot and sketch my ideas, concepts and thoughts splattered with colors, ink and paint. When these ideas take shape in my sketchbook, it is very easy to transfer them onto a canvas, paper, board or plywood. I’m not saying that is process if 100 % because the things that are in my head come out very different in my sketchbook and in turn evolve when they are the artwork. There are times where I look at a blank canvas and it speaks nothing to me. I work on many canvases at a time because I feel blocked with some, get angry with some and love some. I take breaks from my works, especially the ones I argue with. When I work so closely with it, I can’t see what it needs. So this break works out to be fruitful because I can see her in her totality and not in pieces as I painted her.
11. What’s the best advice you ever had about how to be more creative or a good artist?
I went thru an artist clock for 9 months and me a Tunisian artist. I did a quick 30 minute artwork with him and he said to me
‘Be selfish- create art for yourself and only yourself’.
Best advise ever- my art is my self-expression.
12. What role do you personally feel an artist has in society?
I can’t speak for every artist but I feel my personal role is to bring awareness, instill knowledge and grow with time for humanity to understand, interpret and reinvent the past.
13. Who is your favorite artist of all time and why?
Gustav Klimt- Ever since I was 17 years old, I found his work to be provocative yet elegant. His work allowed me to play with what I could see and what I couldn’t see- the swirls, the rectangles, triangles, his shapes and lines allowed me to understand this and relate it to his many portraits and concepts based on the women of society and generations of women. His work is relatable to present day. His women stand proud and decorated and adorned with gold leaf. His women are unattainable and mesmerizing.
14. In your opinion, how important is art education for an artist?
I have always argued with this concept of formal versus unformal education for the arts. I believe the passion comes first. It is through this passion, this education has be better used to promote self-growth, technique and skill discovery and exploration.
15. Are there any upcoming showcasings of your art and what are you currently working on?
I am working with a company called Art Divano based out of Bahrain- we will be launching my ‘Birds eye view’ (Aerial view) collection in the next few weeks in Bahrain. Sneak peek- I have studied the infrastructure of Bahrain and Lahore and colored them in pattern and layers- intermingling and overlapping them. I am also currently working on a mini collection based on the streets of Bahrain. Can’t wait to launch that in the coming few weeks. Also, in the pipeline, I have my series labelled ‘Conference of the birds’ inspired by Farriduddin Attars book and poetry where I will display 33 birds that will envision the ‘simorgh’ and ultimately the traits of the humans in relation to the birds.
16. What message would you like to give out to aspiring Pakistani artists?
Don’t stop creating- create with trial and error and don’t give up- accept your mistakes and don’t be so hard on yourself- some of my techniques are based on trials that went wrong. Be true and honest to yourself and find that expression that justifies it.
Visit Thajba’s official Facebook page for more info: www.facebook.com/thajba.najeeb/