in conversation with Misha Japanwala
Azaadi, literally means Freedom. Misha Japanwala uses the female body as the perfect symbol to highlight the strength of the women who are not afraid to fight to live on their own terms, but also representative of the fragility that comes with being a woman in Pakistan.
How did you first get interested in art and begin making works?
I have loved art and fashion for as long as I can remember. I grew painting and sketching and always knew that I wanted to be a fashion designer. I always thought I had to choose either fashion or fine art as a discipline, and it was not until I started working on my thesis collection in 2017 that I realised I could merge those 2 passions and carve out a path that lay on the border between both.
What attracted you to create your sculptures specifically?
In school, I never felt fully comfortable with my pattern making or garment construction skills. My love for fine art and sculpture had me wishing I could incorporate some of those practices into my fashion design process. During the initial phases of working on my thesis collection, I started collaging nude figures onto old photos, taken during the late 1800s/early 1900s, of women from the Indian subcontinent. A few months in and a lot of axed ideas and sketches later, I had a dream where I saw women wearing sculptures of the female body as clothing. I woke up knowing that was what I needed to create to move my collection forward, and haven't looked back since!
“I had a dream where I saw women wearing sculptures of the female body as clothing”
Your sculptures seem so 'vulnerable' but provoke instead strong uncomfortable emotion. Your works are addressing issues such as female body, shame, and discomfort in the particular case of Pakistani women. Can you talk about this choice and how you approach these themes in your works?
Though my collection was inspired by honour killings and a personal reflection on what it means to be a Pakistani woman, I realised the underlying message of my work is a lot more universal than I had initially thought. Women all over the world are morally policed, and I think the female body is still such a taboo subject, even in Western societies. I wanted to highlight the vulnerability of being a woman, but also the beautiful strength that comes with that, which is why I try to represent both those feelings in my sculptures, though using heavy and stone-textured materials but leaving the edges broken and delicate. My choice to cast intimate parts of the female body was because we need to get over the 'discomfort' of viewing female bodies as sexual objects. As I continue making more work, I unearth greater meaning and more subjects that need to be spoken about, and I hope I always continue to find more.
“Highlight the vulnerability of being a woman, but also the beautiful strength”
How does autobiography enter into your work?
I create casts of my own body so who I am is quite literally the biggest visual anchor of my work! Where I grew up and the opinions about women, how they should act, what they should say, and what they can and cannot do with their bodies that surrounded me all my life led me to where I am now, making the art that I make. It is impossible for my race, ethnicity and (obviously) gender not to seep into the work I do, and I'm grateful for that!
Why do you think art is important and what is it for you?
To put it as simply as I can, and at the risk of sounding so very cliche, art for me is everything. I can not imagine being in a world without it and I can not imagine who I would be if I didn't want to spend my life creating it. It's a universal language, and I think in a world where people are so incredibly divided, it's one of the few things bringing us together. It's beautiful what art can do and the power it has.