Nusrat Ahmad: Pioneer of Pakistan
As I walked up to the future interior designer of the Ahmad family, I wondered the extent to which Nusrat Ahmad had taken her designing career. I saw Nusrat sitting on the lush green sofa in the corner of her family room, thinking that one day she would be strategically placing sofas in other people’s houses. Belonging to a Pakistani family, I wanted to question the extent of approval she received from her family and relatives and inquire about other South Asians artists in today’s community.
Just like any other Pakistani family, Nusrat’s parents always wanted their daughter to be a doctor. As she struggled through high school with her science classes in order to please her parents, she started drawing as a hobby. Sitting bored in her Biology class, she developed a habit of drawing pictures of different organs of the human body in her notebook. She had no interest in the field and she bluntly told me that “I enjoyed drawing more than physics or biology.” (Nusrat) Her parents were unaware of her art, which started to show up at her school’s art exhibitions. Even until the end of her high school career, she did not tell her parents that she was serious about her art and wanted to pursue it, and only when she started college did she tell them that she had an avid interest in that field. They disregarded the idea, thinking of it as a childish interest and still forced her into pursuing a medical career. After the end of her first year in college, she started taking an afternoon art class with a famous abstract artist in Pakistan, Mansoor Elahi, who was well known for his murals in The Parliament, the President’s house. Even though her parents did not want her studying art, they allowed her to take that class due to her incessant nagging. Nusrat studied abstract art with him for about a year and a half, “encouraged by Mr. Elahi” (Nusrat) and most of her paintings were a reflection of his ideas. These paintings were exhibited at local art exhibitions on and off. Eventually, he told her that her paintings could be sold for about three thousand dollars a piece.At the end of her particular 2 year college career, her peers granted her the title of “Nusrat daVinci,” a tradition where the juniors award a title of how an individual has been through his/her college career upon their graduation. It is indeed such an honor to be given the name of the famous Leonardo daVinci! The two artists belong to completely different backgrounds, yet the association provided to them was great.
When I asked Nusrat if having a different cultural background and upbringing in a different country had an impact on her art now that she’s living in the United States, she calmly replied that she had a “bigger advantage over other people.” (Nusrat) Not understanding what the “bigger advantage” was, I inquired about it and she answered by calling herself “the unique one having a relation to two different cultures and presenting the cultural values in art.”(Nusrat) Nusrat’s current art contains many cultural representations like Taj Mahal, old streets in rural areas of Pakistan, and a representation of everyday life in Pakistan. Since 70% of the population in Pakistan lives under poverty, Nusrat’s art mostly depicts the lives of these poor people and paintings of their villages.
Along with interior designing, Nusrat enjoys architectural drawings as well. She switched from abstract paintings to architectural drawings because it seemed more creative to her and “the strict code of drawing was more competitive and precise as compared to merely splashing paint on paper.”(Nusrat) The initial years of her artistic career focused on abstract art, but as she grew older, bigger and more complicated art started to excite her. Starting from a young age of not being trusted by her parents about her work to almost reaching the end of an art degree has led this vibrant young artist to develop confidence. Even though her concentration is interior designing, she is following up on architecture as well. She is currently studying at the Chicago Institute of Art and in another two years she will have an interior architecture degree. She wants to travel extensively and work on her art in on an international level, focusing primarily on Muslim countries.
Even though many Muslim families allow limited opportunities for women, Nusrat has had full support of her family and is proud to call herself a successful Muslim artist. Her pursuit of art parallels Amy Tan’s, who also belonged to a different culture. Tan strived to make people hear her voice and understand that having a different cultural background did not mean that her possibilities in life were limited. Similarly, Nusrat has taken her work up to a level where she can confidently tell people that being a Muslim has not limited her possibilities in life at all. Tan’s question as to why there are not that many Asian Americans represented in American literature is one that Nusrat could ask the same of South Asians.
When I asked Nusrat about the reason behind the scarcity of Pakistanis enrolled in art school, she agreed with Amy Tan’s comment about being “rebellious in nature and enjoying the challenge of disproving assumptions”(Tan, 264) Being brought up in Pakistan has given Nusrat an insight as to why there are so many restrictions on Pakistani children in their pursuit of art. The fact that being rebellious in nature has led both these artists to rise up and do what they desired is very stereotypical of artists, yet it has proven to be beneficial for both Tan and Nusrat.
Nusrat’s defiant nature has enabled her to explore horizons that are not normally delved into by Pakistani women. She is one of the first female artists from Pakistan who has dared to rise up and portray her artistic skills to the world. As I got up to leave the room where we sat for the interview, I could not help but wonder if this future interior designer and architect would be willing to design my future home.