Ufaq Ehsan: A Soul Healer

For Ufaq Ehsan, emotional travails are deeply felt and passionately recorded. She approaches the task of image making but never panders to the notion of illustrating her personal feelings. Her lines, textures and colors collaborate, spreading themselves across the surface-immediate and self-contained. She sifts both calligraphy and organic forms, bringing them together in urgent dynamic collusion.

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Ufaq told IRIS ART MAGAZINE that she considers herself first and foremost a healer, a spiritual being and a teacher. Motherhood, meditation, literature, music, colours and counselling have played a vital role in my development as an artist and art therapist. “My belief is that when you light a candle, the darkness disappears. For me, these candles are my students and the people I heal, trying to integrate the wisdom and understanding of the self within them and eventually find their hidden potential.”

She has a very clear sense of her own existence: “Being a visual artist is a privilege one can see, receive, experience and express one’s self in a completely unique manner. My best friends and the love of my life are my paintings. In my work, I am very conscious of the fact that I am a Pakistani female artist. We women in Pakistan tend to decorate our surroundings from a shirt to a plate, we tend to decorate and celebrate the colours of our environment. For the past eighteen years I have been working as a professional artist. I am also an artist social worker working especially on rehabilitation of special people through art therapy. I have experimented with various mediums and surfaces and the effect of colour on human psyche.

I have a vast experience both as an art therapist and also management of different cultural festivals held in Lahore.

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She describes her art philosophy thus: “I like to collect smiles and heal. When someone comes to me with a heavy heart and teary eyes, trying to make them think positive and eventually seeing an expression of peace and a relieved smile is the most rewarding experience and the same is the case with my paintings, especially through the colours and imagery, I try to heal all those who gaze upon my work.”

Believe it or not, the Holy Book (the Quran) is her chief source of inspiration. She says, “My chief source of inspiration is the Quran, literature that has remained relevant throughout time. Being an Asian Muslim, I developed a deep interest in this beautifully poetic and spiritual literature. The areas that intrigued were where the Quran talks about the big bang theory, the stages of a child’s formation within the female womb, the laws of physics explaining the movement of the planets. An in-depth analysis of the human nature and psychology present in the Quran helps me to unravel the different aspects of life.

Rumi’s poetry, also, gave me an in-depth understanding of the metaphysical and the spiritual aspect of the Quran and thus enhanced my vision and perspective. I have a Bachelors in Fine Arts from the National College of Arts (NCA), Pakistan. There I majored in Painting and took Print Making as a minor.”
Ufaq has worked extensively with children and volunteer student teams for many cultural festivals held in Lahore. She has been conducting art workshops for children.

She says, “I have been blessed by the most caring and loving parents. Being the first born in the family, I was pampered a lot. My fondest childhood memories are my visits to my grandmother’s house called the Haveli or the Lashari House in the midst of old Lahore, Muzang. I would dig out clay the garden and toys out of it. There was also a big shrub of fragrant Arabian Jasmine (Motiya) and I would pluck its flowers and make garlands. My maternal uncles, Kamran Lashari and Zoraiz Lashari, would buy them from me and call me their ‘little flower girl’.

“My first art teacher was my paternal grandfather, Sardar Zakaullah. He had a skilled hand at drawing. He would go for his daily walk early in the morning and pick flowers for my brother and me on his way back. He would make us, my brother and me, draw flowers, fruits and butterflies. That was indeed the deciding factor for me, to want to become an artist.”

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About her favourite genre and style in art, she says, “I prefer to work in symbolism. The language of symbols is a threshold between the physical and the metaphysical and since my work is greatly inspired by the Sufi Literature hence, colors and symbols play a very important role in my paintings. Colors and symbolism nearly remain constant throughout cultures and it is a universal currency which reflects our feelings, our thoughts and our memories. In my painting they are used in such a manner as to create a piece of art pleasing to the eye and mind and beautiful to a degree that it obeys the cosmic order and therefore reflects universal beauty.”

She describes her aim in art thus: “My aim as an artist is to bridge the gap between all schools of thought and spread the message of peace and love taught by Sufi’s through all ages and times. Therefore, like cosmology my paintings give a message of unity in which the entire universe is taken as one whole unit including all creations physical and meta-physical bonded in one focal unit all engages in worship of God. This was the message of the mystic Sufi’s thus my paintings are transformed as my life’s passion and a never ending road to spiritual discovery. As Rumi beautifully said:

The drop that left its homeland
The sea and then returned
It found an oyster waiting
And then grew into a pearl

“For me this reflects the journey of our conscious which after so many experiences of life, contemplation and meditation achieve the ultimate—the wisdom, a pearl to be cherished and possessed by all thinking minds.”

Ufaq says her style of art has seen changes lately. “My paintings are a journey of my soul through colors. Over the years my palette has underwent lots of changes. Initially I used a lot of red. Symbol of anger, energy and rage but over the years the paintings and my palette became more resolved. With age one gains maturity of thought and wisdom which reshapes a person’s personality in a very positive manner. Now my recent work has lots of turquoise, a symbol of freedom, expansion, fulfilment and tranquillity. Also with the use of violet, a symbol of spirituality and perception. My work has become more resolved, the color palette more versatile and more focused in the direction i want to take my imagery and symbols.”

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She admits that she underwent different phases in her art life, lately. Colors, music, symbols, motherhood, Sufism and mystism are a great inspiration. My journey from a woman to a mother and then to a being with a questioning mind has been evident in my work and how it has progressed over the years. My active participation in art therapy sessions for special people has opened up new vistas.

Changes in her life have certainly brought about a change in her perception in her art and its application. She explains, “A time comes in everyone’s life when you question everything around you. The eternal question asked from the very existence of humans, that is, why do we exist? My quest to find the truth was made possible by three good friends: literature, painting and spiritualism. The reason is simple, we exist to understand and appreciate the one who created us ‘Allah’. For me all the ultimate truths are compiled in the Holy Quran. For me it is not only a book but also a living being. It has a soul. Each and every word is alive and it breathes. It answers our most troubled questions. Always there with the words of wisdom, warmth, blessings and heal all those who call upon its advice. In this journey of self discovery, I read alot about Sufism, philosophy, psychology and comparative religion. Paulo Coelho, Ashfaq Ahmad, JosteinGaarder, Anne Marie Schimmel, Karen Armstrong, Rumi, Sayyed Hossein Nasr, Wayne W Dyer and Robin Sharma have been a big all time inspiration.

I am in love with my creator ‘Lord Allah’ and I am in awe of Him. Allah can’t be seen or touched but when one starts the journey to reach out to him, one finds out that Allah can be felt with every heartbeat. When one is in love with The Creator, one becomes harmonised with the universe. What is harmony but positive thinking and compassion. Knowledge and wisdom centered around The Creator is the ultimate truth and reason of our existence.

Ufaq admits, “I am a dreamer with intense faith in the power of a prayer. When a strong positive thought becomes a prayer, it becomes mystical and sacred. It carries a soul, a voice and such unique intensity that it is heard by the Creator and eventually materialize in some form to help the one who yearned for it to happen.

In the art world, during my college days especially, I was very fortunate to have teachers which are icons in the field of fine arts.” In her own words, she admits, “Sir Saeed Akhtar, Mrs. Salima Hashmi, Madam Talat, Sir Dabir, Afshar Malik, Bashir Sahib, Quddus Mirza were the ones who helped me in my understanding of mediums, surfaces, materials and eventually the development of my work. As far as I’m concerned, I have been exhibiting in the major art galleries of Pakistan including Ejaz and Hamail Art Galleries in Lahore, Nomad in Islamabad, Canvas in Karachi. The art world has been very supportive and responsive towards my work especially Sir Saeed Akhtar who has always been a great support throughout.”
Her first exposure to a masterpiece was a huge mural of Sadequain which she saw in the Mangla Dam powerhouse where her father was working as chief engineer. “Sadequain, Chughtai, Claude Monet and Vincent Van Gogh are the ones who have always moved and inspired me,” she says.

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About her life’s ambition, Ufaq says, “I want to develop as a thinking being. I want to heal and guide people who i come across in my life especially my students are very important to me. They are my contribution for a better tomorrow and everyone of them matters to me. I am a very patriotic person. I love Pakistan and want to make a mark so people can feel proud to be a Pakistani. In some way reawaken the faith and pride within the hearts of our people that Inshallah goodness, peace and prosperity will prevail in my beautiful homeland. I want to be a writer one day and of course to excel in my work as a painter. My last wish would be to see peace, harmony and end of war and poverty. In a war the most affected and exploited are the children and women as they can’t defend themselves.”

Her artist statement declaims: “I believe that what we see, feel, hear and sense, influences us greatly and therefore is reflected in everything that we choose to do as well as who we become. Sounds, fragrances and people inspire the colours I choose and the imagery that prevails in my work. Being surrounded by colours from the time we are born, to the moment when the eye blinks for the last time; I not only acknowledge their role in existence itself but also openly admit to utilizing their essence to create my paintings, which I strongly believe, encourages healing. They heal not only my inner being but also those, who I come in contact with. Colours have been and will continue to be integral to my paintings. From the time that a single painting begins to the time I complete it, the personalities, auras and moods of my visitor’s present, shape my work which makes each painting unique. Creations that are heartfelt touches other hearts and souls. Painting for me is a prayer, a meditation, a whisper of hope and a smile which brightens up the spirit. I consider myself foremost a healer and through my work I try to create a sense of joy and harmony.”

Ufaq Ehsan’s message to the readers of IRIS ART MAGAZINE worldwide is: “I have developed a keen interest in reading on comparative religion especially Karen Armstrong. She is my all-time favourite author. She is not biased about any religion and gives a straight forward narration of a religion and its history. It further enhanced my understanding of other religions. I found Buddhism and teaching of Guru Nanak in perfect harmony in nature and very near to my heart.”