In Conversation with Marium Agha

What does the image of a flower mean to an unprejudiced gaze? Objects often take on symbolic nuances, identities bestowed upon by the people themselves. A work of art may be born of a single thought yet those who document and experience the same works may perceive them differently. As we explore the nuances of subverting flowers and discuss the larger context through which they could be approached, we find Marium Agha's depictions of flowers addressing the environment of society's perspective of the gendered. Working in the medium of tapestries, drawings and installations, Marium creates artworks that are physical manifestations of gendered sensibilities.

Marium Agha (Born 1982, Karachi, Pakistan) studied Painting and Indo-Persian Miniature Painting from the Indus Valley School of Art & Architecture, Karachi, Pakistan, receiving her BFA in 2006. Thereafter she earned a Master's in Fine Art from the University of the Art's London, Central Saint Martin's in 2009. She completed a short course in Curating Contemporary Art from the Chelsea School of Art and Design, University of the Arts London in 2009. Agha has developed an original approach, incorporating elements of popular culture and theory in dialogue while deconstructing the historical narrative of love in imagery. Agha's art confronts and interrogates the given real and supposed representational that surrounds the trajectories outlined by borrowed cultures and ideals of self and others. In conversation with the artist for this edition of ARTRA Magazine, we explore the manner through which Marium confronts the discrepancies associated with the perceptions behind the female identity.

Q | In your work, how do floral imagery reflect your pursuit of subversion?

A | Flowers have been used as the ultimate symbol endlessly accommodating of projection. Their symbolic relevance changes with viewership and the narrative it draws pertaining to the sensibilities of the era/ regions/gender it's being viewed in/by. Similarly, the flowers in my work represent a deconstruction of an idea, which is not relevant in today's contemporary narrative.  

Marium Agha, Moral Decadent, 2019, artwork courtesy : Hempel Galleries

Q | Your work is heavily seeped in female sexuality and the male gaze; what of your floral works and patterns symbolize this concept?

A | My floral works are a deconstruction of an image made by their original artist in their times, making it relevant for today's narrative. Male gaze still exists, and the work is still viewed based on gender identification. '…you write about my flowers as if I think and see what you think and see…' O'Keeffe bitterly addressed her fans.

Q | In your opinion, how has the comparison between flowers and parts of the female body evolved over time?

A | For Georgia O'Keeffe, flowers became her prison when her husband associated it to the female genitalia. Similarly, the narrative has only changed when the gender of the viewer has changed, it has not evolved. If it wasn't the west fascinations with flowers that hitched the florals inextricably to women or in Derridean terms “invaginated” them, men wouldn't have had found themselves on the outside of that garden, looking in – spectators.

Q | What of floral works intrigue you, especially those done by other artists you admire and why?

A | What intrigues me is the gender monologue that is carried out after the viewership. It may and may not have anything to do with the floral works, its study, context, or place in history. It's not the art, it's what one wants to see.

Q | Tell us your agenda, as an artist

A | I don't have an agenda. I see myself documenting the truth of contemporary living as a female artist with a bag full of historical narrative that needs to be addressed again.

We find reflections of potency in Marium's depictions across her floral metaphors. The artist employs the picturesque idea of flowers and their feminine connotations and subverts their role by exposing misconceived perceptions. Through 'Perfect Love's, Imperfect Results' 2019 published on page 43 and 'Household Romanticism' 2019 presented on page 47, brought together through yarn and rope on found imagery, the multimedia works of art are a representations of love and romance with hefty influences of the womanly. Marium Agha's vigor in subverting flowers through stereotypical portrayals demands the attention of the viewer to confront truths behind the formation of gendered sensibilities.   

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18th February, 2022 Visual Art | Paintings