Zahid Mayo: Breaking the canvas


Mayo believes that artwork can have an effect on individuals and will help provoke dialogue.

When Zahid Mayo was finding out at one among the most notable artwork schools in the nation, the National College of Arts (NCA) Lahore, he was a sq. peg in a spherical gap. Mayo had dreamed of finding out there since he was an adolescent and at last managed to realize admission in 2008. But, having come from a small village close to Gujranwala, he felt alienated in his new environment. His fellow college students with their impeccable English and concrete methods made him really feel like he’ll at all times be an outsider. But then once more, Mayo was not one to take such issues sitting down, and he transferred his fireplace into his artwork.

As he wandered round the metropolis, Mayo started to incorporate photos of these densely packed Lahore crowds into his work since the crowds allowed him to simply mix in and get away as a faceless, anonymous observer. This train not solely helped enhance his abilities but additionally helped evolve his creative expression into a singular one. In 2013, proper earlier than he graduated, he arrange his thesis show on the roof of the campus constructing, away from the partitions of the gallery, the place the remainder of his class was displaying their work. That roof was the place he had spent most of his time in school and that was the place he believed his artwork belonged. The jury was reluctant to return as much as see his work until he began breaking and burning his canvases one after the other. Stories of Mayo’s eccentricities have now grow to be a part of NCA folklore, however his beginnings have been very humble. He says,

“I had a really good time at my primary school. It was a small two-room building with a tree. We used to take rags from home to sit on. Three or four teachers were ‘katibs’ (calligraphers) and that is where my training started. I started with calligraphy but was soon also drawing as I was a natural at it. My teachers encouraged me and I think what I learnt there was something really precious and it has stayed with me to this date.”

Mayo comes from a household of landless contract farmers. In his village and the neighbouring city, each different home had a katib or calligrapher. These katibs, as soon as in nice demand, discovered themselves out of jobs as soon as creating calligraphy on computer systems grew to become extra in style. Mayo was educated as a toddler to put in writing with a bamboo qalam (pen) on a takhti (board) and was at all times praised for his stunning handwriting. Therefore, unsurprisingly, he was fairly depressing when his mother and father compelled him to review laptop research in the hopes of a greater future.

After passing his matriculation, he spent a 12 months doing nearly nothing earlier than he determined to pack his baggage and journey to Lahore to affix NCA, a school he had heard about from an older boy in the village. To his household’s reduction, he didn’t ask for monetary help, however they have been unhappy to see him go. Once in the metropolis, he spent his preliminary days making no matter cash he may by sketching portraits of vacationers at the Lahore Fort and different odd jobs which took him round the metropolis. But these experiences would go onto form his creative sensibilities, as he recounts,

“I think my initial experiences in Lahore made me want to create art beyond the limits of a canvas. I have a problem with art being confined only to galleries, studios and private collections away from the reach of common people. Art should not belong to only those who can afford it, especially since such people do not always appreciate it.”

Instead, Mayo prefers to color on partitions, bushes, rocks, varied items of scrap and generally even on trains.

“I knew about this abandoned train carriage parked on a dysfunctional track near Lahore Cantonment’s railway station. I thought of turning it into a safe space for children from the nearby katchi abadi (illegal settlement) to practice art. I gathered a few friends and we spent hours cleaning the space and I did some calligraphy on its exterior as well. When we were about to finish, the police raided the carriage and we ended up spending a couple of hours in the hawalat (jail).”

Painting in public was extra of a social experiment for Mayo as he needed individuals to get inquisitive and ask him about his artwork. He as soon as painted Ustad Daman’s poetry on a wall of internal Lahore. Even individuals who had lived in the space for generations had by no means seen a venture like this earlier than. Mayo says,

“Women from the neighbourhood would come and talk to me while the children giggled and observed from a distance. I also experimented by painting the same poetry in Gurmukhi, a language that I spent some time learning, as an homage to the people that had migrated from the walled city of Lahore. That is when the situation became a bit tense as people started getting agitated by this text that they could not understand, which is why I had to leave that poem halfway.”

That effort was not misplaced although and lots of months later a Sikh from India bought in contact with Mayo to understand the incomplete verse in Gurmukhi. He had come throughout the wall whereas on a pilgrimage in Lahore and was impressed sufficient to make a video and share it on the web.

“Art can initiate a dialogue, isn’t that the idea? I was disappointed when they restored the murals on the walls of Karachi Press Club after they were vandalised. Painting portraits of the city’s heroes was a statement by the artists but when the faces were blackened, it started a dialogue, which the artists should have continued.”

A 90-foot lengthy, concrete boundary wall of the French Embassy in Islamabad contains a mural that Mayo and his mates painted. The mural incorporates some verses of Iqbal together with the phrases of Victor Hugo, which Mayo managed to juxtapose by the assist of the French ambassador. Mayo thinks that though his artwork in public areas might wither over the years however it is going to by no means be misplaced as will probably be etched on the conscience of individuals.

“I think many times the process of art creation in public spaces and how it has the power to involve people is much more important than the art itself.”

So with feverish depth, Mayo continues to color on nonconforming surfaces and in atypical environment. His calligraphy extends past flat surfaces into curvatures and path off of canvases onto partitions. What floor Mayo’s work finally ends up on is determined very organically, with the floor generally dictating what he paints on it and different instances his concepts encourage a hunt for the floor they are often executed on.

“Every artwork has its own requirements and for my practice, I cannot act a certain way to fit the rules defined by society. I am, what I am. Artists should be honest with themselves without the fear of judgment. Honesty is the basic prerequisite for practicing any art form, otherwise its magic fades away with time.”

Mayo was tickled when a number of individuals bought in contact with him and mentioned that they had seen his work at the Lahore Biennale though he had not been a part of it and was in Karachi at the moment. The individuals weren’t fallacious although, as his calligraphic work is prominently displayed on tree trunks at Jinnah Garden but it surely was achieved a very long time in the past, even earlier than the biennale tradition got here to Pakistan. Mayo desires to proceed experimenting with totally different mediums and topics. At the coronary heart of his artwork philosophy lies the perception that his work ought to be accessible to as many individuals as attainable and never simply the person that owns it.

“My friends and I have also started a clothing and tote bag line by the name of Sazish (conspiracy). My calligraphy adorns the pieces, making my art mobile and accessible to many people even when a single person owns the shirt or bag. I like to continuously reinvent myself, break rules, push boundaries and challenge norms. I want every exhibition of mine to be different from my previous work. May be I will try video art next. I am also experimenting with my subjects for my upcoming exhibition. Life is so much more fun this way.” 

All photographs courtesy of Zahid Mayo 



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