In the balm of; Madiha Shams Khan

Madiha, “Maddie” as we all call her is a woman of many arts. I have admired her from the day I’ve known her. First as a shy, quiet girl  who spoke softly and laughed openly, then as a good friend and then a greater friend, we have spend such less time but grew so intimate kind of friend. But more than any of it, I have admired her resilience, her patience with people who wrong her every day. I have thought of her as weak, as someone who needed protection, often feeling protective of her. But I have learned people fight differently, sometimes quietly and that is their fight.
I have often marveled at her beauty, how she speaks kindly and gracefully of her father who has hurt her. How she handles heartbreak, also how betrayed she feels by men. How just like me, she is a woman who flourishes in her loneliness.
I have been stepping back from all the women I look up to, who are far ahead of me and have been looking at women around me, their strengths and weaknesses. I want to tell their stories, the women next to me, the women I spend time with, the women who call me to make sure I’m okay, the women who send me funny things on whatsapp when I’m going through a heartbreak and the women who knows the real depth of me.
So this is only a part of her story I’m honoured to tell.

How would you describe yourself as?

Oh my God, (gasps) I don’t know. ( both laughs)  There are so many things, I am so many things. I was so not prepared to talk about myself. ( long pause) I’m different people to everyone close to me. I’m very rebellious about what I want to do, but there are things that hold me back. I often start compromising quickly. When I have some passion or there is something I want to do badly, there is so much adrenaline in me , and there is nothing that can stop me.  When I start working on things, I don’t want anyone to offer their help. I don’t want to take help from anyone. Even on the most biggest projects. I thought I needed somebody but even then, I would do all the emotional and physical work by myself. I would put myself in a miserable position. I don’t know how to ask for help and I end up exhausting myself. I think I can do everything. I’m too stubborn, I don’t want to listen to anyone. But it’s okay , I don’t want to follow rules. It never made me happy or content to listen to anyone. I’m rebellious and stubborn, yes .

What inspires you?

I’m not in a great place in my life right now, I never imagined I would be here. But being here, in this space, it is allowing me more time to look at myself  and reevaluate my art. It is a healing process so going back to my younger self and having time to explore myself is giving me inspiration and insights.

What does art mean to you?

This is going to be a long answer. It’s so crazy sometimes the way I think. You know? you feel so sensitive about all the things around you. Even the way the dust particles are suspended , how they move in the air. In the mind, if you can look at these tiny particles as if they are out of this world and find wonderment in looking at them , then that’s art. And in looking at a view everyday, and find that each day, and each time of the day, you find a different beauty to indulge in, in the same view. Art is like that , it is never ending even if you keep looking at the same thing over and over, you find a different inspiration each time. It transforms your entire view.

What is a piece of art that you are loving right now?

I think, these days I’m going back to 2009, for some weird reason. Okay it’s not weird, ( laughs ) it’s a good reason. I’m glad we were not engulfed in the internet and social media back then. We were just..just….in our reality. Whatever things that really made us create back then was so much more pure and so much more of ourselves. I’m finding that  art that I did back then was so.. avant garde , it’s not normal. I never made one single piece which was normal. I brought a painting of a woman to school one day, I remember Sara seeing it and the breasts were of candy, really huge ones. I was looking at these things few days ago and I was thinking this is who I really am. I always said that we as people always change, our art will change, style will change. But I think,  at the time, that was right from my head, I wasn’t looking at anything, it wasn’t influenced in any way. Everything that I did back then was so much more special. 2009 I had created some great art. I have some unfinished business from then ( laughs). I told myself I need to find that sort of creativity again.

What is something that you always find yourself expressing through your art/work?

When I was in college, it was mostly about women empowerment. And I did my final thesis on Arab women and the issues that they face. It was always about women because I’ve felt it so closely. I don’t want people to say that times are changing, women don’t face this or that anymore. I want to tell them you don’t know anything because you have not been through the things I’ve been through. No matter how much work I do on women , I still have to fight for every single right of mine, every single day, that’s my life. And I can’t stop making art or talking for women, about women.
Recently though, my vision has changed to how we wear different masks , we are so many people. We are different version, there are so many sides to us. We have to take off these masks and be ourselves. And now I’m working on something that is proving myself wrong, I’m contradicting my own self, saying that every mask is a piece of you, so embrace every version of yourself and it will make sense in the end . Embrace what you’re feeling right now, because you’re not going to feel that way tomorrow , or next year. When you are feeling  a certain way, when you are someone that day, or for a while, just enjoy that and trust that it’s part of a bigger picture.

What is your process of creating any form of art?

I like to explore all materials. I wasn’t always painting, I wasn’t always doing one thing. I always want to take different materials . I can’t use one material for too long. And I have made things with wires, metal sheets,fabric and so on. So there isn’t really a process, because I’m so unorganised. Sometimes there is something I want to do and I sit with it for five whole days , five days I do nothing and then on the sixth day something strikes me and I complete the whole project in that one day. Once I start I can’t stop doing until I finish. It’s very natural, and I let it naturally form in the ways my brain is taking me, and from whatever is happening around me, but it just comes to me naturally. A long time ago I used to do moodboards and show process because we had to. I could not skip that. But now once I’m done with something, I go back and put things together, connect the dots and maybe create a moodboard. But I do that mostly for people, because I cannot just say hey I did this, because they will question me about the other documents showing my process.

What do you hold the most close to your heart?

(long pause) My mother. I can’t imagine doing the sacrifice she has done. I see myself in my mom, alot.

When did you finally feel like a woman?

I was hiding alot of things. I was scared of even feeling normal things like being in love when I was in school, it was all so taboo. I think after school, a year or two later I finally stopped being scared of just feeling things and also realised that I didn’t need anyone to make me feel full and complete.

What do you consider your strengths to be ?

My mother .
And I always thought that I’m not good enough and that my work wasn’t good enough. When I started feeling so good about the things (art) that I was doing, I started feeling whole. I think that gave me a lot of strength .

What do you consider you weaknesses to be ?

My mother (sighs) she is both my strength and weakness.
No matter how much I try to put myself first, I can’t. It’s bad for me, I should be taking care of myself.
I can’t stop worrying. I keep worrying all the time about everything. Even when I’m working I’m worrying about something else.

What does love mean to you?

Love…( long pause) whatever kind of love it is, it has to be different depending on the two people and what’s between them. For me, there is no compromising, or sharing, no expectations. I think I have stopped expecting anything. If I am full of love and want to give all of it out, if I have something to offer, I just do and don’t expect alot back. But yknow ( pauses) I’m going to contradict myself here. I’m so moody ( both laughs) but if I feel that I’m cheated on the love that I’m giving, being taken on a ride, I can’t be a part of a love like that anymore. Selfless, yes, selfless  is what love , to me is.

What does to love mean to you?

To love is to…. ( pause) , umm if they find that I’m making them comfortable , they’re able to talk and share everything, even the worst things, things that they have never shared with anyone and if  they’re able to share that with me, connect with me on a deep emotional level and I am able to lend an ear to them. Just that, able to be a home to them .

What does to be loved mean to you?

Even that, If I feel that I can sit down and have a conversation, that is really important to me. I want to be able to talk about all the intimate things without any hesitation, and they give me space for that between us. I can’t talk about everything to everyone, so it’s important for me that someone who loves me makes that space for understanding, if not understanding, just hearing me out.

How would you describe your biggest heartbreak?

wow.. ( long pause) it’s sad. Someone was your first love and not being able to be with them. When you can’t be together and you know it. Loving someone and not being able to be with them was my biggest heartbreak. It hurts me all the time.

When do you feel the most ugliest emotionally? 

I don’t have alot to offer to anyone, and it has happened over a period of time because of what I went through and what I learned from it. I can hear people out but I don’t have anything more to give to anyone, and that may have seem like I’m rude but it was never my intention to cause any hurt.
And physically ?
In the way I look, aaah , my skin is breaking out all the time. It happens overnight, sometimes my skin is getting better and the next day it’s all over my face. And I have put so much weight, my God, it’s not even funny. Do you think it’s important to address why we feel horrible or ugly when our physical form is not according to the “standards” , why we feel ugly when a pimple pops up on our skin, or we find ourselves a bit heaver ? There is so much of …( pause) y’know this Instagram lives we lead ( both laughs) it’s so full of perfection. And the thing is we know, it’s not that we are idiots who don’t know that it has been photoshopped or airbrushed or gone through a hundred filters. Also we know that these people work hard on themselves, and dedicate their entire days to look like that. And when you know you’re not even trying, and you’re whining ( laughs). We’re living in that time, everything is so perfect and everyone looks like they’ve come out of a magazine cover. Now I’m glad things are changing, that everyone is on the bandwagon of posting the truth. I’m glad that it’s helping few people feel better but it’s not really working for me. But earlier the way I reacted to how I looked was horrible, it was bad. I have gotten a lot more better. I’m learning, I’m still not that happy.

What do you feel the most beautiful?

Emotionally, when I’m really doing good at life, I’m working on something , or I’m going to work and I’m happy and feeling good about it, coming back home. Alot of people feel or say that they feel the most beautiful when they’re with someone, or coming back home to someone special, but for me it’s the opposite. I really don’t want to be around anyone at the end of the day. It’s mad that after work I used to go to places alone and just enjoy myself, and I could do that forever. It’s so emotionally satisfying, it makes me feel really good about myself.  And when do you feel most beautiful in your skin?

I criticise myself so constantly you know ? So… god ( long pause) …..( hesitation continues)  Okay, tell me about a feature you love on you? ( long pause ).…I think…… I don’t know… ( long pause) I really like my…… lips and my neck. I have this thing for my neck. Really, no matter how much weight I put on or lose, it’s always the same and it doesn’t get big or small.

What are your rituals to heal or calm yourself?

What makes me really happy, when I’m feeling really low is to take the longest shower and not talking to anyone . Eating all the right food, because it makes me feel really good about myself. There is never one thing that is going wrong in your life there is always so many ( laughs) So, I just pamper myself, everyone should. If the whole house,  if it smells good I feel good.  My mom sometimes complain that there is so much oud smoke in the house that it hurts her head. But somehow it makes me feel so good. I like the soft ones like jasmines. I also go out and buy myself flowers and keep one in each room. I love green thai curry, oh! if you are feeling extremely horrible, just go have green thai curry with some rice. It’s the best thing in the world ( laughs) The smell is crazy, it makes me feel crazy. I always tell my mom I’m going on a detox, and then she serves me parata ( both laughs) but I want to eat vegetables more, not cooked or fried, just raw. I was a vegetarian a while ago and loved it, it made me feel so good . I should be a vegan. My body is telling me to do that, really.

Madiha’s beautiful art

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