Art on Zoom: Falling in love with in-between space

A walk in the park inspires Selma. I am inspired by zoom. To clarify, it’s a zoom art class. Sue Matthews is my art teacher, and she reminds all her students that we are creating cultural relics. I feel I am contributing the cultural memory of the time. Selma reminds me, look at the objects and your hand will follow. She makes it sound so easy, and I’d like to pretend I’m there: that my mind leads my hand and I don’t have to make an effort. Unfortunately, that would be stretching the truth.

Selma and Anniqua in Zoom
Selma and Anniqua

Four-point perspective on zoom

In this art class on zoom, I learn how to draw and how to erase. I learn how to use the subtractive method in art: fill the page with color and then subtract the color to create an image. But the highlight for me, is focusing on the in-between spaces. It’s a bit like the opposite of focus.

The four-point perspective forces me to see the world in four different ways. It forces me to see the overlap of lines and the spaces in-between. I have to erase lines that don’t belong. And I have to decide why others do. I need to make sure I leave enough space for the viewer to enter.

Four point perspective by Anniqua
Four point perspective

My first attempt at art smoked out the school room

In my first memory of art classes, I am three, Selma five, and we’re in our grandfather’s twenty-room, hundred-year-old house in Chakwal, a town of about 34,128 in Pakistan. My great-grandfather built this house for his progeny to live for generations. As a family, we have no aspirations to become city dwellers. In fact, we take pride in our small town identity. In this house live three generations of the extended family at a time when more children means a better life. Three levels of living space with one in-between level dedicated to storage.

Four little girls in the 1960s
Who is the culprit? And who is the snitch?

On the third floor of that house in the small town, Mummy has created a school room and she will homeschool us in everything apart from Urdu. That’s when our aunt, Abidah, will help us. She will teach us to read and write in Urdu. She will read to us Bachon Ki Alif Lailah/بچوں کی علیف لیلیٰ and Abu Kasim Kai Jootay /ابو قاسم کے جوتے(The shoes of Abu Kasim),Urdu story books from Ferozesons, one of the oldest publishers in the Pakistan. She’ll also teach us calligraphy and needlepoint. For now, I’m too young for the latter two.

It’s a dim memory

My memory of that school room is of the late 60s. It’s a dim memory. Remembering the world before one turns five means the words are someone else’s and the images might be too. But it’s in my mind, so I’m claiming it as mine.

THE WATER BABIES A Fairy Tale for a Land-Baby
THE WATER BABIES A Fairy Tale for a Land-Baby

In that dim memory, Mummy reads us the Water Babies and Don Quixote. She teaches us finger painting and crayon scratch art. Selma learns so much more about art in that school room.

We take a break and Selma decides to read a book. I am too young to read, so I draw a house with flowers. It could have been something else, but I think I refined that piece so well, that must have been the one I was drawing. I must have gotten bored because all of a sudden I am involved with a drawer on fire. Mummy pulls out the drawer and throws it in the courtyard. I remember the smoke but not the art project. Clearly Selma and I are on our own learning path.

Before the fire is fully extinguished, I am standing in the corner of the schoolroom, one of our usual punishments. At least Mummy hasn’t sat me on the mantelpiece beside the family photos—the ultimate humiliation.

Who ratted on me?

Mantlepiece
The ultimate humiliation being seated on the mantlepiece with the family photos

I have a theory about why I ended up in the corner even though anyone in the schoolroom could have started that fire. It’ll help if I introduce you to our mother more formally. Mummy, Zarina Sarfraz, née Margaret Catherine Davies AKA Baa, is an English and Art teacher by training, and a disciplinarian by choice. In this memory, she is thirty and the mother of four daughters all below the age of ten. She has very little patience for fires in schoolrooms.

Mummy has a strategy. If the culprit doesn’t step forward, everyone is punished. Her system is efficient. I have my suspicions about how I was the one who ended up in the corner of the schoolroom that day. But it was too long ago to bring it up now, especially since Selma and I are making an effort to connect now, so I will let it be.

Now, decades later, I’ve returned to the basics of art through zoom classes, and it seems like I’m making progress. And now I am trying to focus on the spaces in-between the events.

My artist’s statement

For now, this is my artist statement: Social Media shows us meticulously curated imagery and art: that perfect face, the choreographed tik tok video, the manipulated political message. Through my art, I hope to uncover the beauty in the hidden imperfections that my mind is not yet trained to see.  The blurriness in my lines indicates my feeling about the nebulous nature of life. I continue to capture the complexity of my culture and background in the images I create.

Create Cultural Memories through Literature and Art

When I mentioned I was beginning art classes, a friend suggested this book: Old in Art School by Nell Painter

5 Comments »

  1. Well written and very interesting how the memories go back and forwards making an interesting read thanks for sharing such nice simple memories of our child hood where the mission was get away with all the naughty things do at that age but was very difficult with parents like our

  2. I am filled with admiration for your art and for your interesting memories of what must have been a very happy childhood. The thing with sisters is that they do snitch on each other, but if anyone else was to do that, then the sisters would unite and not allow any blame to penetrate their circle.
    I love the picture of your four happy faces and also your impressive art work. Thank you.

    • That is so accurate. None of our childhood fights have spilled over into our adult life. If there’s one thing I can count on, it’s the support of my sisters.

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