I entered through the front door of Humaira Abid’s Renton residence and saw hundreds of red pacifiers, red little girl’s shoes, and luggages and backpacks immediately. Her family must be home, I thought. I hope they would be OK with a stranger asking invasive questions to Abid while they eat dinner.
It turned out that everything I saw, which was placed in Abid’s living-room-turned-mini-studio, is her artwork for upcoming and past exhibitions. I looked down on a brassiere and a tie on the floor, and could not believe they were made of wood. Abid’s talent of carving, shaping, manipulating wood into recognizable everyday objects was praised by many ever since her days at the National College of Arts in Lahore, Pakistan, where she was born and raised.
She said that her family’s initial disapproval of her passion for art motivated her to prove them—and herself—that she could be successful in the field and open doors for new generations. “I was good in printmaking, painting, miniature, and sculpture. But sculpture is the one thing I was discouraged [from]. People actually warned me, ‘It’s so tough,’ ‘It’s not for women.’ I said I was going to take sculpture to see what’s so tough about it,” said Abid.
Since she moved to the Pacific Northwest in 2008 to be with her husband, Abid’s work has been shown at Seattle Asian Art Museum, Seattle Municipal Tower, and ArtXchange Gallery in addition to galleries all over the nation and the world. She likes to combine miniature and wood sculpture to create work that investigates the individual, emotional experience and social issues. She draws inspiration from everything; from her friend’s failed arranged marriage in Pakistan, to women in Saudi Arabia getting arrested while driving, and having “tempting eyes” that supposedly distract male drivers, to her own experience of multiple miscarriages.
“I make work that makes you think, that questions these issues. I don’t necessarily need to answer them, but I start conversations,” she said.
As a self-described feminist, Abid also creates work that highlights specific women’s experiences that are at the end of the day bound by a common enemy: patriarchy.
“I think everywhere, [fundamentally] women’s issues are the same, it’s just a difference of scale,” she said.
In her studio, it is difficult to know right away if an object is a piece of furniture or an artwork. On one corner of the room is a life-sized chair with reference photos pinned on the wall above it. Abid will later paint a red spot on it. This piece is an homage to all women everywhere—including her younger, terrified self—who have been taught that women’s bodily functions are unsanitary, secret, and a shame.
“My husband asked me if this piece will make women uncomfortable, as it has menstrual stain on it. I said it might make men uncomfortable, not women, as it’s a natural thing for women.”
Another challenge that Abid faces as an artist is the very medium she uses. According to Abid, sculpting in Pakistan is generally not encouraged. People in Muslim-majority Pakistan shy away from art work that is three-dimensional because of fear of idol worshipping, which is forbidden in Islam.
“People wouldn’t come to my shows or encourage something that’s three-dimensional. So it was challenging,” she said. “But there is a group of people who would come, understand and appreciate it. It took a few years, but it’s getting better slowly.”