Yasir Waqas: "It is every artist’s responsibility to make people conscious about social problems"
Yasir Waqas was born in Quetta, Pakistan, and graduated from National College of Arts Lahore in 2013. He specialised in miniature painting and is currently based in Lahore. His first solo exhibition ‘Flight’ was held at Rohtas ii Gallery, Lahore, in 2017. He is a recipient of the Arjumand Art Prize by Gallery 6 at Pakistan National Council of Arts, Islamabad (2017).
Yasir is a trained GPL Pilot and a CAA authorised aircraft mechanic, but is now a full-time artist. "My work is about compromises and conflicts within a personality, between ideas innate and ideas implanted; and the damage that is inflicted upon one’s personality as a result of these clashes and essentially, the idea itself," says the artist in a profile note. We caught up for an interaction with the artist, leading up to the India Art Fair 2018.
Please tell us a little about the artworks that you will be showing at the Art Fair this year. Is there an underlying message in your works that you wish to share with viewers?
Yasir Waqas: The current piece is a unit comprising of different layered up parts, which are juxtaposed on top of each other. The main idea behind the piece or one can say the underlying message is the recognition of the conflicts within a person’s belief system; it aims to address the contradictions within a system, which can lead to inner destruction and on the whole on a macro level, infect the whole society. “It is about accepting yourself with all your conflicts and at some point about ignoring them.”
How do you perceive artworks that make a political statement? Would you like to produce more pertinent, and politically charged artworks as a part of your practice?
YW: My work focuses on the self in relation to the imposition of societal norms on an individual. One cannot ignore the fact that it is the individuals that join up to build a society and if every individual is having similar contradictions of thought, of belief, and of practicing that belief, then on a macro level, the whole society, the whole nation is damaged.
Give us your overview, of the rise in political art over the last few years, as you have been witnessing it - as a viewer, and as an artist. Would you like to see more artists making powerful works with a socially relevant message?
YW: It is every artist’s responsibility to make people conscious about the problems with the society, so that people think about it and find possible solutions. In my opinion, more and more artists should produce works which at east question beliefs and ideologies.
Give us your take on the idea that "All art is political in the sense that it engages society in some way, either influencing or influenced by it." Would you agree with this thought? And does this apply to your own practice?
YW: “All Art is political”, whether it deals with personal issues or societal issues, at one point or the other it does effect the viewer, it does effect the art world, as it raises questions or sometimes it answers questions or issues, or brings to light certain issues which are ignored. I quite agree with it, since politics is something that directly affects all of us, despite the fact that one has a political disposition or not, also affects the art which is primarily a product of the social conditioning and setting.
What, according to you, is political art - in essence? Is it necessary for political art to assume the conventional forms of editorial cartoons, or perhaps, as protest art? How would you distinguish political art as a form in itself - removed from the distinctions of paintings, illustration, and protest performance?
YW: To me, political art, ‘the term’, would refer to art produced with the intention of provoking the viewer to view things differently or to take a step towards doing something about an issue. In reference to satirical cartoons and illustrations. Yes it works, even if by making the viewer be amused by how cleverly the artist has portrayed the exact feelings of an issue.
How important, do you believe, is it for artists today to take up the responsibility of making a political statement - to comment on current affairs, or draw the attention of viewers to larger issues? Is it essential for artists to make politically charged works, to possibly gain larger visibility?
YW: Yes, I think it is the responsibility of the artist to address issues of the society. Such larger issues of society are directly affecting everyone who is a part of it. Hence, there is a collective responsibility on all to address the political or social issues at hand. But, as artists usually tend to have an audience as well as the means to convey a message, the burden is greater on their shoulders.
A lot of contemporary art, unfortunately, tends to get discussed in closed and often select groups. How would you like to encourage further discussions on art among larger groups of people, and possibly extend art appreciation in a more inclusive, rather than exclusive manner?
YW: I think art should be more publicly displayed, in order to get larger viewership as it is a reflection of the people themselves. For that to happen, what we need to do is practice and preach tolerance first. In many cultural settings, not all sort of art is accepted or is tolerated. Art is a form of expression; you may not like one's medium or the thought expressed but it doesn't take away his/her right to express it.
Today, we see many contemporary artists addressing concerns of racism, identity, power struggles, and women's empowerment, among other issues. How effective do you believe their attempts are, to produce artworks that truly make a difference? How do you believe these artists need to be supported more?
YW: Professionally, the field of art is flourishing exponentially, but the government can support it more by giving the artist tax free transportation facilities and more opportunities should be created for the professional working artist to be more self-supportive, for example, having more teaching opportunities, they should have more biennale and art expos locally as well as internationally, so that it is seen as a secure profession by the next generations. Their efforts and struggle have been very successful, but it largely owes to those movements which inspire such art and not such art which inspires such social movements. But as always, such art does influence and attract the general populace.
In the last few years, we have also seen the rise of varied forms of art - spanning performance, video, installations, street theatre, poetry and even music, especially of the folk kind. How would you like to see all these art forms coming together, to make more of an impact not just for the sake of contemporary art, but for a larger social cause?
YW: It should communicate with the audience and fulfill its requirements of spreading consciousness/awareness. When the medium is relevant and relatable, the message is. Besides, most of these art forms has a larger audience than other conventional art forms. Therefore, it must bear the burden of addressing relevant societal and political issues in order to develop a communal conscience.
There's also the final question about balancing the aspects of aesthetics, beauty and taste, with technique and skill. How important is it, in your view, for a powerful work of art to also be visually, and artistically pleasing and beautiful - perhaps, to emphasize the underlying message?
YW: I tend to keep the palette as bright as I can with the intention to make it aesthetically pleasing and primarily for the purpose of alluring the attention of those who view it from afar. Those colours create a seducing effect, a certain charm, which brings the beholder towards it, and with each step a certain layer of the work unravels itself. Until eventually, the viewer sees the incomplete drawings and grotesque imagery, representing the incompleteness within; complementing the idea of a false utopia. It has a dialogue narrated through the layers seen in my work; each layer representing transition and transcendence.
Yasir Waqas will be showing alongside Ravi Chunchula, Rehana Mangi, Rubaba Haider, Sajeev Visweswaran, Subba Ghosh and Umesh PK, hosted by Anant Art, New Delhi, at the India Art Fair 2018.