Smoking Cat, 2016. acrylic on paper. 10 x 9 x 8"
ZEHRA KHAN's costumes, sets and performances for
video have a childlike style that is self-consciously and
intentionally unsophisticated, referencing construction paper sets for
grade school plays and homemade Halloween costumes. Her double-sided,
paper "quilts" are made from her own "canabalized" paintings and
drawings as well as other accumulated paper ephemera. Play, risk-taking
and making-do with what's on hand are all defining factors in her
practice. Zehra received her MFA from Massachussetts College of Art &
Design and is a current
participant in the Drawing Center Viewing Program and the deCordova
Museum Corporate Lending Program. She has attended numerous art residencies including Yaddo, the Vermont
Studio Center, the Contemporary Artists Center, and I-Park. Her work is on view through July 15, 2017 in the group show Relationships at the Riley Strauss Gallery (Wellfleet, Massachussetts). Zehra lives and works in Provincetown, Massachussetts.
OtherPeoplesPixels: What role does play serve in your practice?
Zehra Khan: I love play. I try to never feel like I’m working when I’m making art. If the process gets boring, it’s time to make a more risky move. I’ve always found magic in homemade Halloween costumes, theatrical props and mistakes.
I like to use materials available on hand: found materials, trash around my studio, and used paper and cardboard. If I work with expensive materials I find myself getting stingy, not wanting to squander a good canvas or expensive photographic print on an idea that’s not perfectly developed.
I favor low-tech materials and practices. I love a little surrealism, which leads me to play with scale, proportion and the viewers’ expectations of the space.
Oh Shit Quilt, 2016. acrylic and staples on paper collage, double-sided. 54 x 96." See the other side.
I draw on bed sheets and blankets and make paper quilts to further the
connection between my art and the corporeal, domestic, and intimate.
Working on both sides of a quilt moves the piece from two-dimensional to
three-dimensional, from collage to malleable sculpture.
My process is heavily inspired by the materials available, repurposing and recycling. I love the ways quilters use fabric scraps from worn-out clothing and trade swatches with friends. I create my paper quilts with a similar process of reusing: by cannibalizing my old paintings, drawings, photographs, elementary school homework, college notes and exhibition postcards.
Charm Quilt was inspired by a quilt my great-great-grandmother made; I used the same dimensions and hexagonal pattern she did. While I want to pay homage to the tradition of quilting, I also use techniques which contradict the craft, such as stapling or hot-gluing pieces together. Dirty Rotten Teeth began as a translation of a more traditional braided circle rug into paper; as I glued the pieces together, however, I felt the pattern needed interruption, hence the black “teeth.” I enjoy using rough ‘unladylike’ language and style. Not only does this reflect my personality, but it also breaks from traditional craft making.
Hello Stranger, 2013. mixed-media installation and performance, in collaboration with Tim Winn
OPP: You have a long-term collaboration with artist Tim Winn. Tell us about your work together. What drove your collaboration more, process or content?
ZK: I met Tim while completing my MFA from the Mass College of Art & Design low-residency program, which met at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. Tim was interested in paper architecture and was building rooms and shacks out of paper. We realized my animal characters could populate and animate the spaces he created.
Our collaboration enabled the creation of larger projects in size and scope. But it was really process that lead us to work together… We were always excited about whatever project the other one was pitching, and working together meant allowing more spontaneity and a loosening up of control over the final piece.
I Only Have Eyes For You, 2010. installation: acrylic on sandpaper, bed sheet, pillow case, and friends. 72 x 324 x 110.”
OPP: Body painting has played a big role in your practice. What is compelling about the body as a canvas?
ZK: Painting on friends creates a social and collaborative side to making art. I wanted to break out of my solitary painting practice and engage with people differently in my studio. I always doodled and drew on myself and friends as a way to play and be informal and as an act of trust and affection.
OPP: How has painting on the body affected the drawings and paintings you make on paper and textiles?
ZK: Body painting puts immediate constraints on the painting session: work fast, react to the needs of the painted person or environment and embrace the spontaneous. These are reminders to trust my gut, and the process informs my work in every medium.
The Past Comes in Many Forms (backside), 2014. acrylic on comforter, double-sided. 86 x 93." See the other side.
OPP: I’ve noticed a lot of the recurring animals in your
work—rats, foxes, weasels and bunnies—are considered vermin. You
represent these creatures with dry humor and empathy. Like, vermin. . .
they’re just like us! Are these animals allegories for human othering?
ZK: Animals evoke fairytales, fables, religious deities and ceremonies. Using animals as protagonists allows for the viewer to distance themselves. My creatures act like humans, with the same habits and foibles. Rats became a particular favorite subject because of the strong reaction they cause in the viewer. I represent them as individuals as opposed to a swarm.
Mr. H, wood and rebar, 9 x 7 x 7', Scotland, April 2017
OPP: What are you working on right now?
ZK: I was recently in Scotland making a 9-foot-tall hare head sculpture out of branches. It was my first time working in wood or on a semi-permanent outdoor sculpture, so I researched weaving techniques and basketry. This inspired a series of bowls and baskets “woven” (glued) out of paper. The largest piece is a 3-foot basket made from a drawing of an elk from 2008. It’s an elk remix. More weaving and mistakes to come.
Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her upcoming solo show Sacred Secular will open in August 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.