Cultural Connection: ArtAttack Gets the Inside Scoop on the Incredible National College of Arts in Lahore, Pakistan

‘…At the National College of Arts (NCA), we imagine a world. Not one world, but many. One for each of us, one from each of us, with these we write the autobiographies of our times, in objects, in lines, in mortar, and in perishable clay. In tracing ourselves, we leave traces. These are the traces that make our cities. Turn us inside out like pillowcases with that remembered smell, like shed skins. These are the traces that populate our nights, and from these traces we dare to dream again…’ – Excerpts from NCA teacher-students conversations

The National College of Arts in Lahore, Pakistan is a global centre for creativity, talent and artistic tradition. Originally founded as The Mayo School of Art in 1875, and rebranded the NCA in 1958, debate and discourse are encouraged amongst the students and faculty here, and this leads to a culture of understanding, individuality and tolerance. The art that comes out of this incredible place is some of the best in the world, the training exceptional and the diversity of the students in background, identity, ideology and language a major strength.

Teachers at the NCA nurture and push their students so that each one rightfully values his and her creative ideas and pushes their artistic practice to reach its height.

All this happens in a country who’s value is often overlooked by the international community; a country who’s goodness is glossed over for its’ bureaucratic corruption and troubled political history. It is easy to forget, if your only connection to Pakistan is watching the news, that this country, one of the cradles of civilisation, actually has an astonishing cultural and artistic history practically unmatched in the world. The NCA connects all their students with this rich history, as we hope the following interviews will connect our readers with it as well.

We are honoured to have had the chance to speak with three outstanding female NCA alumna, Class of 2016, Amani Iqbal, Sameen Agha and Komal Tufail, about their time at this esteemed institution, their artistic practice and their future goals within the art world. Suffice to say, these are powerhouse women and we can’t wait to see what incredible strides they take!

One week from today, on 27th June in conjunction with our inaugural exhibition, we will launch an exclusive digital exhibition on our App’s ‘Curated Art’ page featuring the work of these three outstanding women. We are honoured to be able to showcase their work to the world and to help tell their stories.

To view the collection, just download our App, ‘ArtAttack – Share Sell Network,’ from App Store (It’s free!).

Amani Iqbal

Amani Iqbal, ‘State of Belief 1,’ Oil on Canvas, 9×5 ft. 2015. Courtesy of the Artist.

How did you become involved in creating art?

As cliché as it sounds, I’ve been involved in creating art for as long as I can remember. I was never one of those children who loved dressing up their Barbie dolls; instead I remember always creating something with my paper and crayons and PVC glue. I loved watching and imitating all the art shows on telly, even the ones that included designing rooms and spaces. I was privileged enough for my parents to send me to arts and crafts camps during the summer, which further enhanced my love for creating anything with my artistic abilities. At school I was always more interested in the art subjects, math and science being torture to me and hence I decided I wanted to pursue art and took it up in my O and A Levels.

What inspires / motivates you?

Inspiration comes from various outlets; a good novel, poetry or any situation that provokes strong emotions within me. Music plays an especially vital role. A certain lyric or even a guitar solo has the ability to inspire me to create an illustration or art piece around it. Motivation comes from the ability of wanting to do well and becoming successful in my interests. I feel extremely lucky that I am able to make what I love, that is being creative, my career.

You were born in Scotland and migrated to the subcontinent at an early age – to what extent does your work reflect this synergy of East and West?

I was born in Glasgow, the home of Art Deco and moved to Lahore, the home of Mughal art and architecture. I have been back and forth to Scotland since and both cultures definitely are reflected in my work. From the West I get my love for minimalistic, clean and modern art. Whereas from the East I derive more of my subject matter and concerns to work with.

You primarily work with paint – how would you describe your artistic practice?

My artistic practice varies from time to time. When I think of an idea I usually sketch it out and research about it. I always love having the live reference of what I’m going to paint in my hand as I feel like the relationship between the object and myself is a very personal one which needs to develop slowly. I love painting with lots of details, usually in Oils or Acrylics, and the zero sized brush is my best friend! I never can tell when a painting is done and sometimes I over work them or go the other extreme way and leave them under-painted. Each time is a learning experience and I genuinely think if you keep working, your relationship with the canvas and paint, or any creative idea, simply becomes stronger.

Amani Iqbal, ‘State of Belief III,’ Oil on canvas, 6×5 ft. 2015. Courtesy of the Artist.

Tell us about your experience at The NCA?

My experience at the NCA was a blessing. The NCA is a synergy of all the different cultures of Pakistan under one institution. You could be walking down from one courtyard to the next and hear over five different languages being spoken. The best part about being at the National College of Arts was the intimidating yet challenging and motivating talent I had around me pushing me to work to the best of my abilities. We were all constantly learning from one another, be it in terms of techniques and skill or even conceptual knowledge of the subject itself. Apart from this we learnt about different cultures present in our own country and the variety of knowledge students from each area had to offer. I was also blessed to be learning and receiving input from the leading artists of Pakistan that have made it to a high international level, hence my experience was a tough but rewarding and truly eye opening one.

What is the emerging art scene like in Lahore, Pakistan?

The Pakistani art scene on a whole is emerging rapidly. This is the case not only within the country, but on an international platform as well. A lot of new galleries are opening up by graduates in the art field which really helps as their knowledge and personal practice of art makes their vision a more relatable one to the artists who showcase their work. Emerging work and ideas are definitely much more variable now, be it from the traditional Mughal miniature techniques, to oil painting, to video art, installations and even kinetics being used in art. The Mughal Miniatures have taken a much more contemporary route as well, where the technique is still the same traditional one but content and concerns are much more in tune with today.

Have you got any future projects / plans lined up?

Along with my commissioned works, I’m working on a new series of work that has been derived from earlier works which I felt needed to be further resolved. I’m also prepping for the ArtAttack ‘Hang in Chelsea’ competition, so fingers crossed! Some other exciting things are also coming together in collaboration with ArtAttack where viewers will get to see some very talented and skilled work from the fresh graduates of NCA. I have also always been intrigued by event management as I feel you can use all your creative and artistic abilities to create something people can derive joy from. I have joined one of the leading event management companies in Pakistan to work on the creative sides of these events. I’m just looking forward to what the future has to offer.

Amani Iqbal, ‘State of Belief V,’ Oil on canvas, 8×5 ft. 2015. Courtesy of the Artist.

Sameen Agha

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Sameen Agha. Courtesy of the Artist.

What is your first memory of creating art?

I actually don’t remember my first attempt at creating art but I do remember being fascinated with the arts. Given that my parents also graduated from the National College of Arts, from a very young age I had an inclination and exposure towards art in general and I remember having a keen desire to pursue art even when I was in school.

How did you choose the NCA and what are three things you feel studying there specifically gave you?

Well NCA was my dream institute; it was always my top most priority and I still feel humbly blessed that I am an NCA graduate. NCA not only gave me a platform to engage with all kinds of artists but it also gave me a broader scope of what art could be. Having worked with well-known artists who were also my teachers gave me a lot of inspiration. The studio practice at NCA also gave me a structure that helped me build my work and improve on it.

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Sameen Agha. Courtesy of the Artist.


Can you tell me a bit about your graduate show work? What inspired it?

Yes, my work is an exploration of the most basic unit of society which is a Home and how this structure strives to maintain a balance with which are associated our dreams as a family and as individuals. I want to investigate the political, social and cultural norms that are attached to the foundation of a Home. I am looking at family as an institution that builds up a society. How in this society these different structures have a relation with one another and how every foundation carries a story of its own.

I use found materials like wood and metal which have been part of a domestic life at some point, such materials are also used in the construction of a home. One of my works consists of drawings on a metal sheet using chalk, simple line drawings of homes one on top of the other or drawing a home after erasing one previously drawn. This is similar to how I as a child had ideas and thoughts related to the four walls that I lived within, which then changed while growing up. Individuals, families and our homes are in a constant relation with one another and society. I find this intriguing and worth exploring.

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Sameen Agha. Courtesy of the Artist.


Komal Tufail

Komal Tufail, ‘Pathway to oblivion 1,’ Gouache on wasli paper, 28×15 cm. 2015. Courtesy of the Artist.

What is your first memory of creating art?

Art has always been a part of me. I have been creating things for as long as I remember. In elementary school, my favorite subject was art, always. I used to prepare myself for that one art lesson like no other subject. I was lucky enough to have a lot of art material from the very beginning. My father used to buy me art material of all kinds from different places when I was just 8 years old. I think it all started with them, I started exploring all those mediums myself. I enjoyed working with colored markers, crayons and layering them for different effects.

In fact, I was interested in every kind of creative activity, such as making jewellery with coloured beads and threads, exploring fabric paints to paint cushions, learning origami from books, making cards for every occasion, taking part in every little art contest and waiting for summer holidays to redecorate my room with more creative ideas! I think there was a passion to create every possible thing and explore my creativity at my best. 

How did you choose the NCA and what do you feel studying there, specifically, gave you?

From the very beginning or you can say if there is one thing I grew up listening to, was my father telling me ‘you have to go to the NCA and study there’. He was the one who nurtured my talent and motivated me to set my goals. So it was in my mind that I had to achieve the best no matter what.

Getting in there was a dream come true. When I started, I thought I was there to learn how to paint. But many lecturers were more interested in pushing us into forming concepts before we had the technical skills to execute our ideas. I think my four years at NCA seems like a lifetime to me. All the good and bad experiences were a great learning for what I am today.

From the best faculty and healthy competition, we were automatically motivated to do something bigger and better. Getting rejected for our ideas was a routine, but who knew that only that was going to help us grow into better artists. There was no limit for us; we had total freedom to do anything and experiment at our best.

Komal Tufail, ‘Pathway to oblivion 1,’ Gouache on wasli paper, 28×15 cm. 2015. Courtesy of the Artist.

Can you tell me a bit about your graduate show work? What inspired it?

We were told to keep journals in the very beginning of the fourth year. To write, draw whatever crossed our minds. Along with that they asked us to bring any three objects, were really close to us/or represented us in some way. That was the starting point of my thesis idea.

As I was living away from my hometown to study at NCA, most of my drawings were about that specific place I’ve lived all my life. I started with memory mapping of my home. Painted all the objects, things and people I had in my memory. Alongside, I was working with some old family photographs too. To support my work. I did experiments with layering butter sheets and drawing on them, making miniature sized wooden sculptures, but this was all my process work. I chose to paint in traditional miniature style for my final thesis because the medium itself has so many layers to it, so many procedures, which give depth to the final look. The medium, the ideas, the process was all in layers.

If I count on a few words, my work is about identifying the difference between a home and a house. A house is a structure but a home is about feelings, things and the people in it. It has many layers to it just like my work. You start with basic necessities to your luxuries and then you develop your comfort. It becomes your habit slowly and then a memory. A memory is just a blurry illusion in one’s mind. The feeling of comfort of that specific place layered up with so many memories attached to it was all my degree show was about.

Anything else you would like to mention/discuss?

To be an artist is not a matter of making paintings or objects at all. What we are really dealing with is our state of consciousness and the shape of our perceptions.‘ Robert Irwin

Reading about artists and art history is something that I think is very important to grow your work. My work has always evolved with time. I try to shift my medium every time. I’m always flooded with various questions and I think this keeps me moving on. And I feel like working continuously is actually answering my questions and so it’s a never-ending process.

Komal Tufail, ‘Room 2,’ Gouache on wasli paper, 30×20 cm. 2015. Courtesy of the Artist.

– India Irving

Amani, Sameen and Komal’s graduate work will be available to view on ArtAttack App from Monday 27 June on our ‘Curated Art’ page. Download the app FREE on App Store and make sure to follow all 3 artists on the App so you can see their work progress and keep up with their recent projects!




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