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An artistic journey with surprising depths

Monday, 17th April, 2017 11:42am

An artistic journey with surprising depths

Amna Kiran

“The whole exhibition is the idea of the journey,” begins Amna Kiran, “travelling, and the journey as an artist.”

Amna's work features Michaelangelo's David transported from Florence to stand before a mosque's oxidized copper dome, another reflects Cordoba Cathedral, as an enormous crucifix adorns or colonises, depending on your view, the side of the former Moorish Great Mosque of Córdoba. Quite often birds flit across the water colour skylines, representing Amna's journeys in these romanticised scenes.
Amna's travels are also represented in terms of her uprooting from her home in Pakistan's second city Lahore to settle in Ireland. As such, other scenes will be much more familiar to the Cavan viewer, such as Delish cafe on Abbey Street, although reimagined slightly, and Johnston Central Library, where the exhibition will be held.
Whilst the title of the exhibition may be Safarnama, translated from Urdu as Travelogue, belonging seems to be the recurring theme in the artwork; her sense of belonging in her adopted home and dislocation from her native home. Amna came to Ireland when her husband Tariq Cheema, a doctor, secured work here in 2001.
“I'm 17 years in Ireland, so this is home,” says Amna cheerfully in the Celt offices. “It felt like home, maybe more home than Pakistan to be honest. I feel safe when I come back to Ireland – it feels like you're back home.”
In 2006 Tariq secured a permanent job in Cavan General and the Breffni county has been home ever since, and together they have a daughter  Sana and son Ahmed.
Amna had already completed both a degree and masters degree in Related Arts in Punjab University, and she continued painting at home through that first decade as a housewife and mother. However, a flyer through her door in 2010 advertising the Moth Studios – run by Will and Rebecca Govan - gave her art a renewed impetus.
“They encouraged me a lot,” says Amna of the Moth, “And that place is my family now. I love all the people there.”
She adds: “I guess over the years I've made this bond. You make this bond wherever you're living and you need to be loyal to that place, and I think I am loyal to this place because I'm living here.”
Amna appreciates the nurturing environment in the open studio, and her exposure to like-minded people. It's helped her to bed down roots in Cavan – and propelled her growth as an artist.
“That's where I think the proper journey started. I was painting before, but I think I've grown as an artist over the years. I think all the different life experiences teaches you something as you grow old – some heartbreaks, some happy moments, some sad moments – I personally feel I have more melancholic feelings in my painting, because of life experiences.”
Her development as an artist from her time with the Moth is reflected in the painting which shares the title of Amna's, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,'  features prominently Joyce's masterpiece resting on a bench outside Johnston Library.
“When I was reading it I felt like, this is all I'm experiencing, not as a character or anything, but as a creative person – any creative person should relate to this book, because the process of the creativity, and developing that creativity was best explained by Joyce. There is no other way to explain it - I think he's a genius and I just love him.”
The strength of Travelogue lies in the surprising depth of its themes, the breadth of her imagination, and the evocative, autumnal colours which could have been nabbed from the palette of her favourite artist, Van Gogh.
Amna's pride in her Pakistani architectural heritage, built under the Mughul and British empires, is apparent in the works, and inspires her  to paint similarly impressive buildings elsewhere around the world.
“I remember I used to pass these beautiful buildings and it seems to me that they are telling me some stories – there's so many generations who have been there, it's the fascination I've always had for these buildings.
“I think it's just who I am. Sometimes I don't even know myself why I paint these things, but I guess it's just me.”
Her Pakistani background is also evident in the free-flowing Urdu script gracing many of the works. The texts are couplets penned by two the revolutionary 20th century Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Delhi 19th Century poet Ghalib.
“I read them a lot and that gave me the inspiration to paint as well,” she  says.
Amna accepts that the vast majority of people in Cavan won't understand the writing, but she still believes that the foreign script will inform the paintings for the viewers?
“They bring the painting forward,” she says. “I know that many of the people won't understand.  Any viewer who looks at the painting doesn't have to understand the words, they can perceive their own interpretation, and that's the beauty of art – everybody has to perceive how they look at it, what they get from the painting.”
Amna observes that she could have written the text in calligraphy in English, but insists, “if you change the language, the beauty is gone”.
She adds “it's my responsibility to bring something new and give something different”.
Regardless, for the purposes of the exhibition an English interpretation of all the verses is provided.


Less tolerant

The Celt notes that Pakistan may have been a slightly different place since Amna left home – does she reflect on the trouble, has become in Lahore?
“Yes that is very much evident in my work because it has completely changed from what I lived  in – it has changed a lot over the years. “Especially, whatever is happening around the world, things are affecting everybody and the thought process of people has changed a lot, which is very sad for me. As a citizen of that country and as an artist I felt it more because it is sad to see people change so quickly.
“In a very short period of time, the thought process of the whole nation, not all the people, but the majority of people, have changed.”
Become more radicalised?
“Maybe not more radicalised but less tolerant, less patient – that's what it is, yes. Unfortunately a lot is going on in the country. I belong to one of the groups which is not very welcoming as well so a lot of people have to migrate because of that reason - it's political and religious reasons, people will not like who you are.”
She lifts a copy of her painting called 'Strangers', depicting a woman in green and gold robes looking to a bird, maybe a peacock, in the foreground.
“It says that we are still strangers after so many meetings, I don't know when we are going to become acquainted again.
“You belong to there, but feel that disconnection as well – that is in most of my paintings.”

Travelogue, an exhibition by Amna Kiran is County Cavan's sole event in the Cruinniú na Cásca national day of culture. It will be officially launched at Johnston Central Library, Cavan Town on Easter Monday, April 17, at 4pm by Fergal Curtin, Cathaoirleach, Cavan County Council and guest speaker Andrea Connolly.

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