Rabiya Choudhry is a Scottish-Pakistani artist currently exhibiting a collection of selected works from the past six years at Glasgow’s iconic, artist-run organisation, Transmission. The exhibition titled Coco, runs until 20 October and explores the themes of faith, race and identity. The work specifically references the artist’s personal experiences of South Asian diaspora and cultural displacement in Scotland, coupled with dark, comedic Scottish humour.
Rabiya’s paintings are rich with surreal imagery, illustrating the artist’s autobiographical experiences. The work is viscerally playful yet personal, as to Rabiya “painting is about taking personal experiences and exploring them through art”, the artist tells us. “I have explored themes such as suicide, depression, shame, anxiety, guilt and fear, love and loss through the works on display”. Nevertheless, Rabiya’s work is one she describes as “joyous, demented expressions of these themes, mirroring the worlds we experience both on the outside and inside”. In turn, her work is unmistakably surreal, anthropomorphising objects such as buildings, planes and bombs creating a vivid insight into the artist’s inner thoughts.
In one incredibly beautiful though violent painting Journey through Jinnastan, Rabiya depicts a airplane-man hybrid with large, sagging testicles alight in a red blaze, flying across a swirling ocean and shooting its sperm in the form of googley-eyed bombs outwards. Four women’s faces are seen crammed into the circular windows of the man-plane hybrid, and his expression looks mad with blood-shot eyes and bared teeth as he holds them captive. Additionally, blood-soaked swords populate the background amongst the flying bombs. The painting stirs feelings of pain through emotional and physical entrapment illustrated by the possessed, hyper-masculine vessel. Simultaneously, the painting’s symbols echo themes of immigration and cultural identity.
Rabiya was born and grew up in Glasgow, the child of a Pakistani immigrant and a Scottish mother who converted to Islam in her teens. “I really liked the visuals of video games and their vibrant colour palettes became a strong influence in my work”, she tells us. “I didn’t grow up with art around me, but going to the video shop was a cultural act for my brothers and I”, particularly recalling the memories of “going to Asian video shops which smelled of fags and the hot, plastic slips almost dripping off the covers”. After insisting to her family she was going to art school to become an artist despite their concerns, Rabiya remarks “I knew I was an artist. I didn’t know at that age it was a stupid career choice, as it’s a really difficult life to lead, both financially and mentally. You have the pressures of finance, but also of mining your personal experience to put on a public show which I’m not comfortable with. That’s why art can be a struggle for me”.
The show starts off with a neon tribute to the first generation of Asian shop keepers in Glasgow, titled Dad. “The piece is partly a nod to the amusement arcades of the 80s, but is more importantly about representation”, says Rabiya. As someone who feels like there is a lack of representation of the ethnic minority’s experience in art, I wanted to literally put Asian names in lights and couldn’t think of a better name than that of my dad”. Finally, the exhibition ends with Car Crash, January 25th, a reference to the shocking announcement that Creative Scotland would withdraw its regular funding to Transmission. Transmission fully operates on state funding and voluntary labour and over the last two years, the committee members sought out a process of decolonisation in the arts, addressing representation in art institutions. The gallery has acted as a crucial platform for budding artists who are now locally and internationally famous including Jim Lambie and David Shrigley as well as numerous other Glasgow School of Art graduates.
As for Rabiya, her aim is to continue to “bring people together and do some groundbreaking shows — presenting an alternative version of contemporary art in Scotland and the UK that portrays a range of diverse experiences”. Finally, she adds, “all I’ve ever cared about is continuing to make great work”.
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