Blend in with the elements


PUBLISHED May 29, 2022


Aliya Yousuf’s sculptures explore human sensibility and the ever-changing fabric of society. Her understanding of three-dimensional art has made her one of Pakistan’s leading designers. As a hybrid medium painter, Yousuf prefers to be called a ceramist. His portfolio consists of painting, photography and sculpture, and his works are a must for those interested in contemporary 3D art. Born in Karachi in 1973, Aliya Yousuf received her Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture (IVS) in 2003 and received her Post-Graduate Diploma in Photography from the IVS in 2011. She has participated in several residencies and held numerous group and solo exhibitions in Pakistan, Canada, South Korea and the United Kingdom. She currently works as a teacher at IVS. In a conversation with The Express Tribune, Yousuf shares the artistic challenges of working in three dimensions while describing his fascination with sculpture and other art forms.

STF: Does creating sculptures help you to develop new ideas and thoughts in you?

AY: Yes, of course. My clay work gives me immense satisfaction and confidence to develop a new style of sculptures. When I start to shape an object, I think a lot about its cultural value. My sculptures evoke new ideas and meaning in life. [The meaning] varies from time to time depending on cultural context and social acceptance. It’s kind of a suggestion that I get from each individual piece. I have to think, rethink, invent, cultivate and craft again and again to find the desired meaning. It really works and hones my creativity.

STF: Your artistic theme is a little off. What exactly are you looking for with your sculptures?

AY: My works are based on aesthetics. I seek the sublime by exploring beauty in the ordinary. i am deep [into exploring our] socio-cultural environment. I categorize things based on the context of culture and social acceptance.

STF: What inspires you to shape your sculptures?

AY: My works are in harmony with nature. I have always been inspired by nature, flora, fauna and the shapes I borrow from leaves and flowers, especially roses, sunflowers, daisies and thorns. These natural elements melted into my emotion and helped me [document] daily life experiences. I have a good command of the materials with which I work. Understanding their responses helps me blend the elements and mold and shape my art.

It also led me to develop my interest in traditional and non-traditional materials.

When an object has its own logic, it begins to talk about many other things. It’s not that it represents anything, but it represents its own reason for existing, in a way, as a material – like clay, with many things, and the body. Then it represents the movement that creates the form.

STF: What was your first clay?

AY: I used the primitive method to sculpt my first clay art. I used my hands to roll, shape and smooth this piece. I was inspired by the flora and fauna, and it was an unforgettable experience. It actually developed my sense of understanding [for] the medium — its state and behavior in certain situations.

STF: There are also other mediums, but why did you choose ceramics?

AY: I wanted to explore the traditional methods of the subcontinent. This is the basic ceramic technique based on [the] four-theme method of earth, water, fire and air. I was looking for a classic creative process that involved creating shapes without a potter’s wheel, using hands, fingers and simple tools. Common hand building techniques are coil and slab building. I examine the physical and formal characteristics of clay through processing and weathering.

STF: How do you view figurative sculpture from the sub-continent?

AY: The figurative art of this subcontinent is largely influenced by [the] The Indus Valley Civilization. Several ancient sites have been discovered in Pakistan. Due to these influences, artists and admirers have developed a common understanding that sculpture is figurative art. However, Mughal miniature paintings are also figurative, depicting the daily life of [the] emperor’s court. Additionally, religious factors also play a role in our view of figurative art. I believe that sculptural form can be anything that can be held, touched and experienced by engaging the five human senses.

STF: Tell me about your medium. How do you color your sculptures?

AY: I worked on different mediums. But ceramics is my power. I work with clay as a medium for my sculptures. My pieces are for visual notes rather than containers or utensils. I use oxide to color my works. They are ceramic colors and it is called a stain. I don’t glaze my work. I only glaze to enhance the color and shine. Burnishing makes my sculpture smooth and shiny.

STF: Is there unique equipment in your studio?

AY: I use [a] band wheel to see my works from all angles. For the winding, I don’t have any specific tools. My hands are my main tools. I roll the clay with my hands and determine [the] the thickness of the strings then join them by applying clay slips. The clay slip is made of [the] same clay. I use simple, ordinary things – like forks to create texture, dental tools or anything else to get the required surface.

STF: Are you a ceramist or a sculptor?

AY: I don’t create functional objects or ceramic utensils. I call myself a ceramic sculptor. You can also call me a clay artist.

STF: What is your priority in artistic creation?

AY: I try to prioritize red clay as the main material due to its easy availability in Sindh. Potters over the years have worked [with] limited prospects. They worked on how red clay can be used to create durable pottery or other similar objects. Yet we can experience its multiple potentials. I really want to change the perception. I have created many fragile and delicate works of art. But in reality, these are durable and tough.

STF: You are also a painter. Can you tell me about your transition from painting to sculpture?

AY: Yes, I’m a painter too. My creative practice has changed considerably over the past few years. I’ve done paintings in hybrid mediums, I’ve worked in multiple mediums. From pencil sketches to Islamic patterns, I have created many geometric patterns and floral designs. Over time, my passion shifted to sculpture. It’s durable and really serves my passion. I reinvent my creative practice with a focus on human life. I [find] my inspiration from the natural elements.

STF: Do you have a studio?

AY: Currently, I have a studio at school. This is the first studio I ever [had] with a door that I can close. Working in isolation behind closed doors has been an incredible experience. Here I can pour my attention and my emotion [into the] object on which I work.

The author is a Karachi-based journalist. She can be reached at [email protected]


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