Connections ~ Modigliani Chughtai and Zehra

One-off and unique, hand-painted and hand-crafted silk dresses for women, like no other. And with a mission! Created by my fine artist friend from Pakistan, Zehra Hasnain, who graduated from NCA the year I joined back then in 1980. It was she who gave my parents the much-needed nudge to agree that arts was the right career choice for me. Little was she to know, art is my way of life!

She was always an urban chic, though having gotten married and in raising her fabulous four sons, her passion for painting took a back seat. Nevertheless she created a home that can only be described as magical. From the sculpted fountains, to the clothes and interior designs, all have her creative signature. I met her recently after a gap of thirty odd years. Her aesthetics continue to transform the world around her. And she has shared her blessings all along with those less fortunate than her. She is now following her heart in a radical way.

This beautiful sharing spirit is most visible in her recent venture. She is painting again, this time on pure silks, turning the paintings into art one can wear. The design of the shirts is loosely modelled on the construction of kaftans and is quite free-size. These are hand sewn by a careful selection of other fabrics put together to materialise her vision. Each shirt is the only one of its kind. Alive with sensual silks and others fabrics, these wearable artworks adorn hand painted portraits of women. Stylistically the faces are a morph of Modigliani and Chughtai and yet they are totally Zehra.

The story behind this venture I find most inspiring. A decade ago, in her neighbourhood, burglars ended up killing a security guard, leaving behind three orphaned children, his young wife and an old mother. In this grief and utter desperation the old matriarch almost sent her grand children begging on the streets. The neighbours relieved their short-term financial difficulties and Zehra persuaded the grandma and mother to school the three boys. The boys were bright, and she arranged home tuition so they could take the entrance exams for school. The first few months were tough on the kids to switch from speaking punjabi to urdu and learning english. Now, a few years on, they have integrated rather well. The gap between the rich and the poor in Pakistan is blatantly wide and visible. Lack of education however is the biggest culprit. Even skilled artisans are not able to earn enough to provide for their families in the best possible ways. There are times they go without food. Education for their children seems a far dream. Constitutionally Pakistan provides free education to all aged 5-16 years, but it’s not always the case. And when it does happen, the quality is highly questionable and children seldom make it into further education. Zehra provides tuition fees, uniforms, books and at times monthly rations for nearly fifty underprivileged children. They are from families who have suffered trauma at the hands of religious and social prejudices, mostly shia there are some christian and sunni children too. Instead of opening a special school for the poor, she is being radical by integrating these bright young spirits, on basis of their ability, into mainstream schools. Her big dream is to build an orphanage and serve free dinners for the homeless of Lahore.

Zehra has introduced this line of garments which not only gives a feel good factor for those who wear them, the cash from this will cover the on going education work for the children, provide income for those who tailor them with a percentage saved for the ultimate dream orphanage. “My principle is simple. Share what you have. Educate a child and you enable generations. Education is a priority. Provide people with tools and opportunities will follow.” Her eyes light up when she talks about the kids and their families. Parents tell her, at times the kids are so excited, they sleep in their uniforms. The idea is to create a sustainable income stream for her projects.

Zehra’s garments have initiated a lot of love and good will already. I did the photography for free. Heartfelt gratitude to my friends and their friends who generously gave their time to model the clothes, and to FMM at Westfield, Stratford for retailing a selection in their shop – commonly all nurturing the dream a step closer to reality.

We all have our favourite charities and causes we believe in. This post is not asking of you to donate. However if you like what you see, share this post with others. Better still buy a piece or two for yourself or your loved ones. Furthermore Zehra is happy to paint according to your brief and the turnaround time for bespoke garments can be as short as three weeks. Get going ~ holiday season is just round the corner! E-mail me for enquiries on seek@alizaidiarts (dot) com

PS: Each shirt is £150 (was £170) including postage within UK. The painted panel is 100% silk, while the rest are mixed fabrics. Dry clean only.

Models: Carla Sofia Guillen Silva, Roselyn Yap, Amy Amystyl, Meg Peterson and Elena Dell’Aqua

More images on alizaidiarts FB page.

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