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Samya Arif

Samya Arif

Meet visual artist, illustrator and graphic designer from Pakistan, Samya Arif.

 

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m a visual artist, illustrator and graphic designer living and working in Karachi, Pakistan. I graduated from the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture in Communication Design in 2010 and around three years ago started my independent practice from a studio at home. My client based work revolves around illustration and design, ranging in form from album covers, film and gig posters, book covers, editorial illustrations to logos, bus exteriors and car interiors. While my personal work is heavily inspired by women, my own experiences as a woman and a feminist, psychedelia, and surrealism as a means of escape and existentialism. A lot of my work is digitally created but I also love mixing things up and going back to my roots of painting, using pens, inks and color pencils. I have also been a part-time professor at my alma-mater teaching design, typography, illustration, and web design. My work has been exhibited in Pakistan, England, USA, and India.

 

Describe the city you’re living in and what it’s like to live there.
I’ve been living in Karachi since I was 7, so its pretty much the only real home I’ve known. As a child growing up next to the sea I had quite a carefree and independent existence. I have countless memories of just running up to the beach on Sundays with my younger brothers unchaperoned, collecting starfish and jumping in sync with waves. But now as an adult, my relationship with my city has grown to become not just one of love but also some hate. My city has seen a lot of hard times, death, violence, and destruction over the years, even as things get better the Karachi I knew as a child faintly lingers in the background. The way the city held me when I was young has changed as I have grown into a woman, the city has become conscious of me and my womanhood and so it’s no longer as safe or comfortable to go out walking by myself like it used to be. I can no longer just run to the beach and I hate that, especially after traveling around the world and seeing women walk, bike, and be out and about in their cities, even here in Asia. It’s imperative for women to claim public spaces in their cities and that’s a vital thing missing here. Slowly but steadily things are changing though, in some ways I feel blessed to be alive, living here and witnessing so many women stand up to change things, claim spaces and have their voices heard, I recently attended my first Women’s March in Karachi and it was a beautiful experience that left me in awe. I also realize many places in my city hold really special, nostalgic value for me, I might not be able to run to the beach anymore but its still my place of solace, driving around the barren lands of Phase 8 and finding space to breath, and obviously all the world’s best food is here, the spicy gol gappas and tikkas and parathas and the biryani! And of course the people, we’re hardened from the outside but our souls are still soft, life is really fast here and everyone works so hard, Karachi is in literal terms the backbone of Pakistan, its huge, there are still many areas I haven’t ever explored or been to, its easy to feel lost here, sometimes you love it and sometimes you yearn to get away from it.
While my personal work is heavily inspired by women, my own experiences as a woman and a feminist, psychedelia, and surrealism as a means of escape and existentialism.

 

What is the best and worst thing about living in your city?
The best thing hands down are the beach and the sea, that’s our silver lining, our one link to nature, that’s how the city survives. The hard-worked sweat of the city’s people is cooled off by the evening’s gentle breeze from the sea.
The worst thing is that I cannot walk to this beach alone feeling safe or comfortable.
Give us 3 words that describe what it’s like to be a creative in your city.
Surreal
Challenging
Melancholic

 

How did you start your career in art?

I’ve been drawing and painting ever since I can remember. I definitely get my creativity from my mom, she would always encourage me to color and draw, whiling our time away with afternoon art sessions. I took art as a subject throughout school and always knew I was going to head towards a career in it, but I didn’t get serious about it till I got to my A-levels where we were given more freedom to explore art subjectively. I surprised myself by getting an A+ in the subject and for the first time felt I could be good at something I loved doing. For my undergrad, I studied Communication Design at one of the two top art schools in Pakistan. After graduating my first job for 2.5 years was as a web designer at a renowned digital agency in Karachi, which was a great learning experience. I wanted to get into illustration but there were no real jobs related to it then, so I started freelancing on the side whether it was creating album artworks for my musician friends or posters for local gigs and also kept making my own personal art whenever I’d get the chance. I got my first big break in 2016 when the interior of a Taxi I designed got featured in a Coldplay music video, since then the work has been nonstop.

 

I definitely get my creativity from my mom, she would always encourage me to color and draw, whiling our time away with afternoon art sessions.

Were the people around you supportive of your decision on working as a creative?

My parents had picked up on my interest in art from an early age and were always extremely encouraging about it. My mom still has all my drawings from my childhood and adolescence saved in a scrapbook. Since I was born and lived in Spain till the age of 7, there was plenty of art around me and my parents were often taking us to museums and galleries. However when it came to a career in art, my parents being middle-class Desis, who had also struggled financially, had this notion in their heads that Architecture was the only field in art with great prestige and financial stability, where I would blossom creatively but also be rich enough and they began to ingrain this in my head since a very early age. I bought it of course because I was too young to know what I wanted then, and also because they sugarcoated the idea by offering to send me abroad for my undergrad studies, the idea of getting away and being on my own at that age was more important than anything else. And so I went along with it, however I was in for a rude awakening when I realized my parents were not going to be able to send me abroad and I had to attend uni locally. I started out with Architecture and within 3 months I started skipping classes and ditching uni until my dad went to pay my fees and they told him I wasn’t enlisted in school anymore. Obviously my parents were quite heartbroken, I had always been a good student and they were completely blindsided by this. It took a lot of talking and some crying for me to convince them that Architecture was never my thing, that was their thing, I just wanted to draw and paint and learn other things but not so much about buildings and structures. They agreed begrudgingly, and I decided to study Communication Design instead, I knew I would be truly happy and successful only by pursuing what my heart was into and I know it was one of the best decisions of my life. I think till date my parents don’t completely understand of what all my career entails but through time I have managed to win them over, once they saw me excelling and doing well in my field they gave in, when I got featured in The New York Times my dad messaged me “I am so proud of you, what you have achieved takes a lifetime to do.” I thought I’ll melt and die, I was so touched. Last year I was invited thrice to travel around the world to exhibit and talk about my work and participate in events and I know my parents couldn’t have been prouder, they were more excited than me!

 

What are some goals and ambitions you have for your future work?

There are lots of things I want to do, often I feel there’s not enough time to do it all. I’ve been thinking a lot about doing my masters recently in illustration and animation, animation is something I’ve always wanted to explore, I have basic know-how from creating GIFs but I really want to learn more and get into it. I also want to work towards having my first solo art show next year. For a while I’ve been sitting on the idea of creating an illustrators collective as well, featuring the best from Pakistan with my friend and fellow artist Sana Nasir, we’re hoping to get that started by early next year hopefully. The goal of the collective is to bring the work of Pakistani illustrators to the forefront and participate and collaborate on projects, residencies, and workshops internationally.

 

If you could collaborate with any person in the world who would it be?

Satoshi Kon, he was a Japanese cult film director, animator, writer, and manga artist. I fell in love with his animes Perfect Blue and Paprika a few years ago, they have some of the most striking visuals I’ve ever seen with beautifully surreal storylines. My second love after art is film and animation, and I would love to collaborate on these mediums someday.

 

How would you describe the women around you?

I have mostly seen strong, bold and compassionate women around me since growing up, from my mother to my grandmother. But I also see the generations of women above us entrenched in the throes of patriarchy and societal and cultural pressures. Maybe, for this reason, I have always seeked out strong-headed, bold, eccentric and creative women as my friends, as these are the women that truly inspire me.

 

I have always seeked out strong-headed, bold, eccentric and creative women as my friends, as these are the women that truly inspire me.

Were there any local female creatives that you looked up to when you were growing up?

I think growing up there was a huge lack of local female creatives that we had to look up to, especially female artists and illustrators. There are a few artists whose work I remember seeing and admiring like Hajra Mansur but none that really inspired me. Also back then the only way to check out new artists was by going to galleries. Things have really changed with our generation through the internet and social media, I think when I started out doing illustrations and creating art there was just a handful of us amongst the girls and now there’s a surge of female artists, creating all kinds of beautiful, different forms of art and its hugely inspiring.

 

Are there any challenging aspects of being a female in your industry?
In my career I feel being a woman has actually helped me more than hindered anything, as a female Pakistani woman and an artist I feel the world is interested in knowing who I am, at least for the time being. But in some ways, I do feel I’ve had to work twice as hard to prove myself than my male peers, and to be taken seriously as an artist and illustrator.

 

Keep at it and never give up, always stay curious about your work and the work of others, experiment and be open to collaborations and new ideas but above all always believe in yourself and enjoy your work.

Do you have any advice to young women who are aspiring to work in your field?

Keep at it and never give up, always stay curious about your work and the work of others, experiment and be open to collaborations and new ideas but above all always believe in yourself and enjoy your work.

 

 

Photos courtesy of Samya Arif.

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