Interview with Marium Rana, by Allison Valiquette

Published: Vol. II, Issue I
Date of Interview: July 6th, 2014

How has your background (cultural, educational, etc.) influenced your work?

I was born and raised in Long Island, New York and I remember from a very young age thinking that every part of America was as diverse as where I lived. At the age of nine, I visited Pakistan, where my parents were born and raised, and this trip really changed my view of the world. I saw and understood the depth of poverty versus the beautiful, alluring ornamentation. I remember coming back from my trip and feeling very confused, as if my eyes had been opened for the first time.

Passenger Bus, Pakistan

We soon moved to Florida. I just drew all the time, and had to work myself out of a newfound shyness. A newfound sense of being the other. I realized that there was too much negativity in the world, and I refused to allow myself to become a part of it. I wanted to make work that took people away from that. I wanted to focus on the things that brought me comfort, like the textiles I grew up with in our Pakistani American home, the stories of the gardens my father grew up in, the family who would call and send gifts from Pakistan. This is all a part of my work, that warmth.

Studying art has allowed me to experience so many different materials, and to meet a lot of artists that I respect. In my case, it has been a catalyst for change. It’s a privilege for some and a prison for others. I have felt both sides of that—it’s all about how you perceive what you have and your understanding of yourself as a creative vessel.

What inspires you in your work? Is there a subject matter or other form of inspiration that influences your creative decisions?

Technique really affects my work. I enjoy having a chance to change a blank surface, to know that what I am producing is the result of curiosity—how colors look together, how I can modify different patterns from my own life. For me, it’s a challenge to put a color down and figure out how to make it work.

As an art educator, I see that paralyzing anxiety to not use the wrong color, or paint the wrong picture, in so many people. I had a painting professor who told me: “It’s not brain surgery, no one will die. If you paint something you don’t like, paint over it.” That’s the best advice I've ever received. I enjoy the process as it is a humbling reminder that change is good. Sometimes the first answer isn’t the best answer.

Whose work interests you right now? What artist is putting out work that you find exciting?

I find myself drawn to the work of Fernando Chamarelli, Greg Simkins, Camille Rose Garcia, Yelena Bryksenkova, Shahzia Sikander, and Dilara Yarci.

What is Mughal miniature painting and how did you come about studying it?

Mughal miniature painting was a traditional painting technique used by court painters commissioned by the emperors. These paintings were called miniatures because they were usually no smaller than 9 by 12 inches. The style was inspired by Persian manuscript illustrations, and art and folklore of the region.

The traditional Mughal miniature painting makes use of a brush made of a single hair from a squirrel’s tail, as well as mixing one’s own water-based pigments in flat sea shells. Even witnessing the process is an aesthetic experience. I learned to paint in that fashion so that I may appropriate it according to way that I choose to paint.

Suspended in Agra | Gouache and Watercolor on Black Printmaking Paper | 2' x 3' | 2014

I was always interested in the illustrative, stylized look of miniature paintings. One day during a painting class, I mentioned that I felt our university didn’t offer art history classes for what I wanted to learn, and that there are no published manuals on how miniature painting is done. My professor suggested that I travel to find what I’m looking for. That’s when it was planted in my brain. I wrote a research grant proposal and I travelled to Pakistan for individual painting sessions with Professor Naheed Fahkar from the top art school in Pakistan, which happened to be located in my parent’s hometown. Everything seemed to just line up.

What is your main motivation for creating?

I always tell myself that if I’m not creating art than I don’t have the right to call myself an artist. When I’m shopping, I’m a consumer. When I’m watching TV, I’m part of the audience. It just doesn’t seem right to stop. There are a lot of things I enjoy, but I feel a reignited joy every time I work on a drawing or a painting.

Why painting? Did you experiment with other mediums before predominantly working with ink/paint?

I prefer to think in 2D. I’ve experimented with ceramic, darkroom photography, digital design, etc.. I enjoy traditional media. There’s nothing more interesting to me than the simplicity of working by hand.

As far as previous series go, I’ve painted directly on fabric, silkscreened, and used oil paint. I love oil painting, and when I see the work of artists like Casey Baugh and Aaron Nagel, I miss it. At the moment, watercolor and gouache seems to be the best medium for my desired aesthetic. Clean up is much easier and is more environmentally friendly.

Is there a strong art community where you live? Where do you find support as an artist (other local artists, online, etc.)?

There’s a strong, very small arts community in Tallahassee, which is where I have lived for the past five years. Since it’s a small city, there aren’t that many venues, so I’ve often ventured out of the area. I’m moving to South Florida in a few weeks, so I’m excited to get involved in the art scene there.

I love finding art on Instagram, that’s the only social media I’m really attached to. It’s so easy! While you’re painting, bring out your phone, take a picture, post it, and keep working. I have a few close friends who are artists, we just meet in cafés, or at our homes, and draw while catching up.

Tell us about your studio/workspace.

I used to believe that the only way to really work was isolated in a room alone under the perfect conditions. I was reading a Chuck Palahniuk book where he wrote about how alienating it is to be a creative person, and how people fantasize about the creative process.

As a student, I had a studio in the art district in Tallahassee that was visited by hundreds and thousands of locals once a month. I enjoyed hanging my work up and walking around like a spectatoryou hear the most interesting things. We later moved to a studio that was an abandoned middle school. The best way to describe it is as a hospital from The Walking Dead. I don’t watch the show, but I went to Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios and the Walking Dead themed haunted house looked exactly like my studio.

My current workspace is basically wherever I go. I prefer having the option to have my art in front of me at all times, because between breaks in life, I’m always going over decisions for my paintings. It’s nice to be able to just pull them out of a portfolio and just work wherever I am.

Miniature painting supplies in use during a session with my instructor in Lahore, Pakistan Summer 2011.

My miniature paintings were only 8.5 by 11 inches, so I would carry them everywhere. From my painting sessions in Pakistan, I learned to carry a board around, place it in my lap, and lean against the wall to paint. That’s how the old masters would paint from sunrise to sunset.

And a fun one: what would you say is your spirit animal? Why?

I am the most enthusiastic cat person, who doesn’t own a cat. They just command respect and have a lot of personality. It seems that cats are the kind of animal that prefer to take care of themselves, know their worth, and the universe is constantly humbling them.