Kiran Shah – The artist who paints nostalgia

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“What I realized was that I felt a great sense of pride in being associated with Pakistan. Painting it however, made me prouder.  I never thought I would represent my country in this manner.”

Kiran Shah is a Pakistani artist based in Dubai, but more than that, she is a passionate lover of art, especially painting. Even after receiving her Bachelors in Fine Arts from Karachi with distinction she didn’t stop actively learning her craft. She was mentored by the senior artist Akhtar Hilal Zuberi and continued to take short courses to keep up to date in latest techniques in the field after moving to Dubai in 2008.

“I would say learn, learn, learn and don’t stop. Learn the basic techniques of all genre, even if they do not interest you. Rest assured it will come in handy.”

Streets, shop signs and alleyways are the places Kiran gets her inspiration from, her paintings are an intimate interpretation of what she sees and feels on the streets and her own street photography,

“I take pictures of anything and everything and this mostly happens to be the first step of my visualization process. Sometimes while taking a picture, the ambience of the painting is already set in my mind. And sometimes I merge a few pictures to create the scenarios of my paintings.”

Born and raised in Karachi, Kiran is a patriot at heart, missing Pakistan while in Dubai, and it is these feelings she pours into her art. She says that painting the streets of Pakistan has given her a deeper appreciation of where she comes from and wants her kids to have the same association with Pakistan that she has.

“On a recent trip to Karachi, I was grinning like a kid when we arrived, and as the plane touched the ground I exclaimed to my son, “Mikaeel we are home, this is home!”

Kiran’s first exhibition was in November 2017 at Sinyar Art Gallery. She says having her work exhibited like that for the first time was a “surreal experience” but exhibiting her work and participating at World Art Dubai 2018 gave her insight into what people took from her art. A memorable interaction she fondly remembers is between her and a Mrs Monalisha Upadhay who, along with her family, loved and chatted with her about her work at length because of the similarities of their cultures and streets expressed in the paintings. This is something Kiran sees quite a bit whenever her work is exhibited, people seeing the paintings reflecting a bit of their home back to them no matter where they come from.

“I met many people from countries such as Afghanistan, India, Egypt and Lebanon, who saw glimpses of their own countries in my paintings. And knowing that is immensely rewarding. If you ask me what  I sell, I would say I sell nostalgia.”

Kiran also wants to use her art and her skill for much more than just exhibiting and making people feel good, that is why she spends her Sundays teaching art at Manzil, a center for people with disabilities, and has completed a foundation course in Art Therapy. Even though some children warm up to art and pick up the skills faster than others, others get excited working with the colours and textures.

“Words can be restrictive when it comes to feelings, sometimes what we are feeling cannot be  expressed [in words}. That is where art comes in.”

Kiran has found the art community in Dubai to be very supportive and welcoming, a community she is happy to be a part and represent her country. Her message to anyone curious about Pakistan is this,

“Pakistan is a lot like us Pakistanis: hospitable and loving but rough around the edges. It takes you in and it loves you till you become its own and it becomes your own.”

Kiran’s work is a reminder that we are all quite alike, nostalgic and sentimental about ‘home’ no matter who we are and where we come from.  It is a refreshing message that can help build bridges where they might not be any and start conversations built on a foundation of love and camaraderie!


Interview & Written by Sameen Mohsin | Photos by Kiran Shah

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