In Conversation: Sara Khan
The Urdu title Sara Khan’s “Sanda Rd Key Dhund” translates to Mists of Sanda Rd, referring to an area the artist frequented while a resident of Lahore, Pakistan, before moving to Vancouver in 2014. Reflecting on here and there, past and future, her works combine memory and fantasy, creating other worlds where loved ones and mythical beings converge within a shared landscape. Architecture shifts in and out of focus, fading into persistently green colour schemes that lend each scene an anxious feeling of being not quite day or night.
Read on to learn about the observations and discoveries that motivated Khan’s exhibition and how they continue to inform her artistic practice.
You have said that you draw inspiration from the way children design and create new worlds. Have children always influenced your work or is this a new development?SK
I have always admired how children create; their drawings are so uninhibited. What I take away and use most from how they draw is the lack of importance they give to scale and the perspectives we are used to as adults. Since my daughter started drawing with me, I have started paying even more attention to how children create and am definitely learning from her mark making and use of colour.
The exhibition text mentions green colour schemes that add ambiguity to your scenes, making it difficult to discern day or night. How did you arrive at using this colour so prominently?SK
I was revisiting these extremely nostalgic memories from my time at the National College of Arts, Lahore, but I wanted to add an ominous atmosphere to the paintings for a more realistic perspective of that time. I feel I have started seeing Lahore/Pakistan far more clearly since I moved away from it. While I was living there I believe I couldn’t quite see the forest for the trees. A lot of the problems we face there today existed back then too, it’s just that we were far more carefree at that age to be bothered by them. Green suggested an almost post apocalyptic environment, neither night, nor day, I wanted to depict moments from that time in the eerie smog that we find Lahore enveloped in today. I have often wondered if my time at college was especially incredible because the times were generally better or if we were just oblivious and ignorant. I have always believed the latter; but I cannot be sure, so I often find myself wondering and playing around with these ideas through my paintings.
During the BAF residency, you challenged yourself to experiment with materials that are new to your practice. What discoveries did you make? Will you continue to work with acrylic, gouache, wax crayon and oil pastel?SK
I most definitely will, I already am. I never thought I would find any way to incorporate acrylic in my work, but by the end of the residency I found the medium fascinating. I found manipulating acrylic quite difficult but discovering mediums made me realize it is possible in a different way than watercolours and this was both challenging and exciting. I used very monochromatic palettes for all the materials I tried because I wanted to narrow down my focus and get the hang of them first. I now look forward to doing more with them.
Arcane Peripheries (2021) is a sprawling work on paper that covers two walls of the exhibition. Visitors have asked if there is a narrative or storyline to the work due to the scroll’s seemingly allegorical imagery. Do you have any specific narratives to share? Do you consider all of the characters in the scroll as existing in the same world?SK
I am very intrigued by how time sometimes confuses you. I noticed this even more during this pandemic, how I couldn’t remember when what had happened, how long we’d been in isolation for, when the world had opened up, and when it had shut down again. I find it compelling that my husband, who I knew nothing about pre 2013, always existed here in Vancouver. Obviously, he always existed; but he didn’t exist for me, so did he really exist? Every being in Arcane Peripheries exists in the same world because they are just observations of different people and relationships over a certain period in my life. They are solely my observations though so I guess that just makes them different versions of myself over that particular period of time.
What is next for you? Any exciting upcoming projects you’d like to share about?SK
I am now working on new work for a solo show at the Seymour Art Gallery at the end of the year. I am also planning a two person show with Sandeep Johal which I am very excited about.
Sara Khan’s “Sanda Rd Key Dhund” was exhibited at BAF from January 13 to March 19.