For over ten years Bushra Wakas Khan, an award winning graduate of the Printmaking Department at the National College of Arts (2008), has been experimenting in multiple ways to deconstruct official “affidavit” oath, or stamp paper that she is presently using as a material to construct 3D objects. The current body of work is both a critique of patriarchal norms that emerge from the semiotics of the stamp paper to its transformative and gendered trajectory from an affirmation of ownership, to its possession as a much-desired object. To further compound its significance, the duality of femininity and fragility realized metaphorically as items of attire, lends the work an intriguing and powerful presence.
True to her expertise as a printmaker, Bushra revisits the technique of photo etching to digitally create multiples of the motifs that are inherent in the traditional design of such documents. Symbols of nationalism such as the crescent and star, as well as floral patterns of tendrils and petals are some of the components of its many parts. The inkjet printing process allows for the reproduction to be realized close to its original texture and form, usually in black, on heat transfer paper. The transfer of the printed image is then executed by an industrial transfer technique onto very fine organza that appears to simulate paper, which is the customary surface on which an image is printed from a metal plate. Individual pieces that are sometimes miniscule may then be laser cut, reassembled onto fabric and stitched meticulously around their edges to retain their form and texture as 3D planes.
These processes are labour intensive and could take up to many hours and days to affix with needle and thread. Expert embroiderers are deployed to work under her watchful instruction in her studio where her ‘bag of tools’ is a fascinating box of samples from which the inspiration to create the final products are derived. The embroiderers also embellish the center of each flower motif with a tiny glass crystal to “ward off the evil eye”.
An extended visit to her studio revealed some garments that had been made initially for the artist to wear, including a custom-made outfit that resonated with strong performance possibilities. This was a hybrid of Elizabethan mutton leg sleeves and a traditional indigenous ‘jama’ or robe. All other items that are currently on exhibition have been imagined by her to eventually be made as items of apparel, some of which would take an astounding 102 meters of printed fabric to fabricate! Such an ambitious undertaking may be the ultimate goal for the artist to aim for. For now, the diminutive scale of these sculptural objects has a quirky charm of its own, allowing us to appreciate them in their elegance and detail.
- Naazish Ata-Ullah