Saba Khan

Pak Khawateen Painting Club- Indus Water Machines, 2019

Ostensibly benign, proper, and ‘pure’: women painters dressed as air hostesses enter sites built by powerful men to generate energy on a massive scale – only to subvert the logic of ‘patriotic’ economic development. Saba Khan, Amna Hashmi, Malika Abbas, Natasha Malik, Emaan Shaikh, and Saulat Ajmal are the Pak [pure] Khawateen [women’s] Painting Club. In this project, they venture to the frontier of the Indus river for ‘plein-air’ painting of nationalistic projects: the mega hydropower dams in the north. Female painters stereotyped as a benign, bourgeoisie group, but in uniform (inspired by Peirre Cardin’s design for Pakistan International airlines in the 60s) subvert roles and enter sensitive sites built and imagined by powerful men to generate power and energy for the nation. Drawing from the book, ‘River of Fire’ by Qurratalain Haider, complex narratives weave a temporal history of people who are united around water bodies. The Indus waters host strata of history. Its deities, rituals, supernatural powers, and folklore transcend religion and time, who protect subaltern cultures. In an attempt to tame its waters with modern engineering for agricultural output maximization, the fragmentation of the river resulted in the displacement of indigenous populations, unequal division of resources, and inundation of histories. The multi-layered project will create links between femininity, masculine power, water structures, folklore, magic, colonial and neo-liberal designs. As provocateurs, we will question and aim to open the conversation about who’s right is to be considered of greater importance – the urban centers, the subaltern indigenous, or the earth itself.

Saba Khan’s multimedia work moves within the language of memorial, monument and public art. From lush beaded paintings of cakes to miniature dioramas of a bureaucrat’s boring office; from flashing LED signs of stereotyped “Islamic art” to embellished textile banners honoring the mundane generator, she balances grandeur, artifice and satire in order to explore the cracks in the facade of life in her native Lahore, Pakistan. Saba holds a BFA from the National College of Arts, Lahore and an MFA from Boston University supported by a Fulbright Scholarship. Her work was included in the Karachi Biennale 2018 and the Lahore Biennale 2020. Her solo exhibitions include “ONE” at COMO (contemporary/modern) Museum of Art, Lahore (2019) and “Zinda-dil-a’an-e-Lahore–Billboard Project” (2020), an initiative of Lahore Biennale Foundation (LBF). In 2014, she founded Murree Museum Artist Residency, an artist-led initiative in a British colonial hill station, and in 2020 the satirical artist collective Pak Khawateen Painting Club was triggered from the commission of Lahore Biennale 02. She recently won grants from Sharjah Art Foundation (2020), Graham Foundation (2020), British Council (2020) and Paul Mellon Centre (2021). Khan teaches at the National College of Arts, Lahore, Pakistan.