Amina Rizwan – The Artsy Metalsmith
A metal-smith by profession, an educator by choice, an artist by birth and a writer by passion- Meet our talented Amina Rizwan who plays multiple roles in the society and leads through example.
Amina was diagnosed with a mild sensori-neural hearing loss when she was born, but she refused to see it as an adversity. Amina never let any obstacle hinder her, instead she simply charged ahead in life at full throttle.
Amina is the youngest of four sisters, all of them distinction holders, and three of them Gold medalists in their respective disciplines. Amina completed her Bachelors from Beaconhouse National University (BNU). She is a Fulbright Alumnus and completed her degree last year at Cranbrook Academy of Arts, Michigan, in Metalsmithing which is a relatively broad alternative in the field of jewelry making. Amina’s parents and sisters have always been really supportive.
‘It was my enriching Undergraduate education from Beaconhouse National University, my own obstacles, then the Fulbright program which changed a lot of things for me and how education, coupled with individual skills and resources can be channeled as an agent of change in society.’
Since passion for art did not run in Amina’s immediate family, her primary inspiration was her late grandfather, who was a poet and calligrapher. He used to unwind at the end of the day by searching for visual symmetry and balance in God’s verses with the use of different stencils and rendering mediums. Amina would sneak into his bedroom while he was lost in contemplation, and leave without disturbing him. Amina’s interest on her grandfather’s portfolio and his appreciation of her earliest pieces of art gave her much needed confidence to see painting as expression of the soul, rather than an introverted activity. Gradually, Amina got interested in studying Arts as a subject, got admitted to BNU under the most generous support of Salima Hashmi, and ultimately pursued MFA in USA under Fulbright Scholarship.
‘For me, the impulse to draw and paint, to be an artist was within since childhood.’
During her time in Beaconhouse National University, Amina had to choose between either fine arts or jewelry making. Jewelry making was then being offered as an Undergraduate degree for the very first time in Pakistan. Amina made an extremely thoughtful and informed decision when she chose to venture into jewelry design, as it was a relatively unexplored realm in Pakistan. During several trips to the Walled city, Amina encountered many vessel makers and jewelry artisans, witnessed the grand legacy of Cartier and Maharaja Jewel collections and she realized that crafts and hand-made objects have always been such an integral part of human existence and society. This sudden realization of the embedded history, fascinating uses, status, functions and meanings of the art of crafting forced Amina to try her hand at this art as well. She ultimately came to know that even though metal crafting is often stereotyped as a male-centered practice in Pakistan, it can be pursued successfully by women if they adopt the fine arts model of making–in-the-studio and approach this discipline in a way that is similar to painting and sculpture.
Amina chose crafts in particular as something she wanted to spend her whole life doing because she feels that it was crafts which guarded, expanded and preserved the cultural legacy, grandeur and sanctity of Subcontinent. Frescoes, gold thread work, miniature painting, bespoke, carved gemstones, nothing at all was spared from ornamentation. Amina feels that there is something inherently fascinating about investing in timeless labor and meticulous skills. The sense to adorn something, it is spiritual, meditative and precious, to achieve timelessness and perfection. This is why individuals who are not in this disciplines, are still attracted to the silence of women doing embroidery or wood carvers, chiseling away. Crafts help us slow down, observe and appreciate their very technique and making.
‘Pakistan’s craft industry, is unarguably, so rich in its skill, diversity and materiality: they are voices of our heritage, women, children and men from Balochistan to Hunza, communicating stories in silence, through threads, earthenware and metalwork.’
It deeply hurts Amina that there are only a few initiatives that are working towards mainstreaming crafts and artisans, from being marginalized communities of makers to becoming a more integral part of the society and country. Jewelry and metalsmithing need to be streamlined too because it has tremendous potential, in terms of skills and resources. Currently, there are only two institutions in Pakistan which are offering it as an undergraduate degree, PIFD and BNU in Lahore. But these two institutions are doing a wonderful job, churning out graduates who have an informed sense of this discipline and are ready to explore further, this agency of making.
‘I want to foster crafts as a more meaningful dialogue in Pakistan, how we can re-think crafts from contemporary perspective and arts. There is no concept of metalsmithing as an education or art practice in Pakistan and I am trying to address this very gap through my own making, academic teaching, working with craftsmen and writing.’
Choosing crafts as a career has brought about several changes in Amina. It has, first and foremost, significantly boosted her confidence. Being the first Pakistani to showcase and curate with her department, in Galerie Marzee, a jewelry and objects space in Netherlands gave Amina the much needed assurance that Pakistan metals discipline can be expanded more holistically through contemporary research and dialogue with other artists and makers across cultures and continents. The MFA program also strengthened her arts’ critique skills, because they had to review other artists’ work periodically thrice a semester, through critical essays. Upon her return to Pakistan, she was offered a slot to join myriad pool of writers in one of the most distinguished contemporary jewelry magazine, Art Jewelry Forum, in the US where three of her critical essays have been published.
‘I hope to use this experience to reach out to emerging artists and designers on how to adopt holistic approach towards their practices, through writing, making and social practices.’
Amina has exhibited at Forum Gallery and Cranbrook Art Museum, in Michigan USA, Macy’s Gallery, Columbia University, NYC, Galerie Marzee in Nijmegen, Netherlands and PNCA Gallery in Islamabad, Pakistan. One of her essays which addresses the topic of jewelry from Pakistan’s socio- political perspective, have been selected for AJF’s upcoming book coming out next year. She has also developed an initiative to empower craft artisans, economically as well as to train them for the purpose of design literacy. Her first two jewelry specific exhibitions at PC and Tehzeeb in Islamabad changed lots of perceptions in terms of material choices and design applications.
‘I wanted to disregard the fact that jewelry is essentially Silver or Gold, but instead emphasize upon the idea of ornamentation as visual composition fueled by individual process and internal dialogue with the material, balanced with gemstones and metals to redefine crafts. I am currently under the process of expanding the initiative by collaborating with more artisans to also channel this as a socio sustainable cause so that it can result in a more open-ended, interdisciplinary approach between students, artisans and designers.’
Success never comes easily. Like many other successful individuals, Amina has also suffered from various setbacks in her life. The issues she faced at the start of her career pertained to inaccessibility of certain workshops where she needed to get her work outsourced, considering that some of the facilities were not available in her department. It was definitely awkward for Amina in the beginning, to work alongside male artisans in the workshops and usually one or two persons would always have to accompany her. There were financial limitations and limited educational resources available in this discipline, and apart from one or two faculty, there was no one who was well versed in this field five years ago.
‘Today, being an educator, entrepreneur, artist and writer, it definitely concerns me that how in a country with sub-optimal facilities, even individuals with mild hearing loss or speech impediments are unable to live productive lives due to negligible support systems and educational interventions. It is entirely upon us if we allow any shortcomings or adversities to either let us grow or suppress us. There is no in between.’
Amina believes that if she had not faced any setbacks in life, she would never really have realized her true potential. Those setbacks helped her develop alternate strategies to cope with things another way if one way did not work out. She still has a very long way to go, as the major obstacle has always been to adopt jewelry discipline on fine arts model, but there are those who believe jewelry will lose cultural distinctiveness with it, which is not the case as contemporary culture always seeks for balance between context, inquiry, skill, practice and the same can be applied to this category of crafts. For an independent woman artist in Pakistan, there are never ending barriers but Amina wishes to rein these barriers to support her own and others’ learning in a better way.
‘It is a crucial, imperative need of today that all of the spheres we are participants of, in our everyday life, socially or academically should be more closely attuned with each other. Despite the fact that reality today is so fragile and with so much negativity happening around the world, Pakistan is at this sphere where we are seeing remarkable progress towards creative startups and sustainable projects, empowering the less privileged, through empathy, critical thinking and design. As an artist, this entire scenario serves as a recall that we need more diversified narratives, not just cliché reporting.’
Interview by Anum Nawaz | Written by Fatima Arif