Words: Louise Martin-Chew
Photography: Nick De Lorenzo
It is unusual for artists in Australia to have an international presence before a local one. In 2019, Mehwish Iqbal had her first solo exhibition with Nanda\Hobbs in Sydney, and the unusual nature of her work left audiences intrigued. Her Sydney debut joins an impressive list of international exhibitions held since 2014 – in places from Hong Kong to New York to Istanbul.
Iqbal’s own movement around the globe is captured in her art, which also exhibits a poetic embrace of the stories of others under the broad umbrella of migration. Using fragile tissue and dressmaking patterned papers, she embroiders imagery of exotic creatures, people and birds on the move, often in groups. These colourful explorations look at the parallels that exist between individuals, animals and nature.
Born and raised in Pakistan, Iqbal came to Australia in 2006 and studied toward a Master Of Arts majoring in Printmaking at Sydney’s University of New South Wales. As a child she had little access to traditional art materials, but would draw, using charcoal or whatever she could find on the ground. “I didn’t know the meaning of art, I was unconscious of what I was doing, yet making was strongly embedded within my personality,” says the artist. “I get affected by what is going on – so art is a vehicle for me to cultivate those dialogues and discourses. More than anything it has been within me – to respond to what is around me.”
In her use of such fragile materials – in which she tests the limits of paper – Iqbal finds an apt analogy for life as she creates work about people transformed and altered by migratory experiences, and the courage required to confront and survive change. “A lot of work delves into my personal life and the distance from my mother (I was not raised with her),” she says. “Universal meanings arise in the work. Conversations are not geographically bound and the vocabulary I am using is one I have cultivated over years.”
In ornate works that incorporate printmaking techniques, drawing and embroidery, Iqbal’s subject matter draws together mythical creatures, birds and female bodies. These multilayered pieces are enmeshed onto a gossamer thin (paper) base. Dealer Ralph Hobbs reports intense interest in the work during the exhibition. “This is such delicate work. While the broader Australian market is often painting-centric, Mehwish’s media, printmaking and embroidery, and imaginative subject matter brought in both collectors and curators. Her international credentials will help more and more as many Australian collectors become interested in the world market.”
Iqbal’s work has been widely shown at international art fairs, including Istanbul Contemporary, Hong Kong Art Central, Karachi Print Biennial and Sydney Contemporary. Earlier this year she had a solo exhibition with HG Contemporary in New York, which was also strongly received. Her use of thread in such a painterly manner invites the viewer to come close and experience the vernacular landscape, the humanity and the imaginative power in the work.
This article was originally published in Art Collector issue 91, JAN – MAR 2020.