From Brooklyn to Karachi: How Naveen Shakil's murals make her statement!
© Janine Cheng
We catch up with the architect-turned-artist to know more about her art and what makes her tick.
No urban setting feels incomplete without a few murals defining the vibrancy that exists in the environment.
We have our fair share of popular artists who've decorated cities with their bright and colourful artwork, adding to the life and culture of their locale.
Naveen Shakil is one such artist who has made her mark in Karachi by doing her first ever mural for popular restaurant Loco in 2016.
This was just the beginning for Naveen, a self-taught artist.
Naveen's journey kicked off after she graduated in architecture from a Scotland university and worked in a well-reputed architectural firm in Australia.
The love for art led her to pick up graphic designing on her own, at which she excelled at enough to move to New York and join the Estee Lauder group of companies.
But was that enough for her? Not at all.
It was just the beginning as our young artist engulfed herself in design, illustration and art. Soon she'd turn to art as a part of her identity and become a figure in street art.
We got in touch with Naveen Shakil who was more than happy to tell us about herself.
Red Bull: What is it that draws you towards murals and street art?
Naveen: Since Australia, I was fascinated with public art. To see these huge large scale murals, their message, and how they were technically achieved. When I moved to NYC after Australia, I was exposed to it alot more. I began noticing people working on murals and used to stop to observe. While I was in fact painting, it was on a much smaller scale, on canvas, and I began feeling the need to go bigger. Very daunting to say the least, to go from a 7 ft canvas to a 20 ft wall.
In 2016, one of my canvases was stolen, and I think that was the push that I needed. In Dec that year, I did my first mural ever at Loco, Karachi. I had NO idea HOW i was going to do it, but I just decided to. And I have been addicted to that feeling of rush ever since.
Not only is it about the scale, the prep, the physical labor, the technicalities, but it was about being out in public where people are able to witness the process of creation, from start to end.
You become a part of their lives, and they become a part of yours and your art. You become integrated into the community of wherever you are painting a mural, where you are accepted WHOLLY, even while you are dirty smelly and covered in paint.
Red Bull: How would you define your style?
Naveen: I have an interdisciplinary approach to exploring the arts; I demand of my work to be outside the conventional parameters of a studio practice.
Being self-taught, I believe I have the ability to work independently of constraints and without the need to conform to any particular technique or medium.
My background as an architect and a graphic designer, has led my abilities to not be trapped within boundaries, and has resulted in the drive to work on a range of projects.
From advertising campaigns for chic brands to guerrilla and graffiti art, I am able to employ my well versed skills in traditional painting, graphic mediums, software manipulation, mixed media and photography to my body of work.
My current output is a manifestation of all my strengths into one portfolio; infatuation over the human form; the cleanliness of technical execution; the diversity of aesthetic language; and the symbiotic relationship with realism and surrealism; to create a series of powerful visual compositions.
Conceptually, my body of work explores the layered concepts of duality and connectivity in order to advance the expression of personal and the connected universal truth; which ultimately leads to an internal and spiritual release that speaks to the complexities of the human condition, and existential search.
First, there is an ongoing and recurring concept of the presence and disintegration of the human existence.
Second, the duality of our physical existence with the divinity of our soul. Existentialities, and all that stems from it. What happens when societal conditioning begin to create labels that compartmentalise us and often result in drowning out our universal spirit?
And third, the connection. What happens when it all begins merging - when a connection begins forming between your physical self and your spirit.
Heavily inspired by the search for higher spirituality, music and Sufism, all of the above converges into a conceptual sketch which is then composed onto a mural or a canvas. This also gives rise to a symbiotic relationship with realism and surrealism; infused with elements of geometry to create a series of layered visual compositions.
Red Bull: What's the best response you've gotten to your work?
Naveen: I think one of the most beautiful things ever said to me was by an old man passing by who said "God bless your hands"
Red Bull: Is there a creation of yours you would call your favourite?
Naveen: More often than not, favorite creation is always the one I am currently working on. That being said, its also like asking which finger from your hands do you like the most? They're all my favorites since they are all a part of me.
And there are immense stories about each and every piece I have ever created.
Red Bull: Is there a dream project you wish to accomplish somewhere down the road?
Naveen: So many! To paint 30 buildings back to back, in different cities and countries... A huge 200 ft building mural with some sort of digital animation mapping over it at night.
I want to start a mural art festival in Pakistan, bringing in international artists so that they can experience our culture while we take over the streets and all the blank building facades.
To building my own Island! Just so, so many ideas.
Red Bull: You've had quite the journey with your art. If you could go back in time to when you first started, would you have done anything differently?
Naveen: Absolutely nothing! I am how I am and I got to where I am because of how I chose to navigate through life. I started with where I was and with what I had; A small canvas that I painted outside on the street in my neighborhood.
Even if someone told me "if you would have done this one thing differently, you could have painted 2000000 murals around the world by now" I still would never give up any of the experiences I have had along the way.
Red Bull: Was there any stigma attached to this career that you had to deal with?
Naveen: I feel the stigma attached to being an "artist" is a bit less than it used to be 10 years ago. But you still get it.
Usually it's the idea of "you must be a struggling artist; you don't make much money. Why don't you do this as a hobby and do a real job full-time."
And then there is also the assumption that, oh, that's cute, you are an artist, because you're probably not intelligent enough to be anything else. I think that stigma makes me laugh a lot.
Red Bull: What about being a woman in the field?
Naveen: Being a woman in this field has never been a struggle for me. Being a female street artist 15 years ago was a different ball-game, but there were strong women before me who worked their butts off to challenge that notion and successfully changed that landscape / narrative.
When I stepped into this field, I was very warmly welcomed and encouraged. I think the most surprise came from the public getting to know that I am a female muslim from Pakistan - and I was/am heavily supported for breaking the norm or any conceived ideas of women from our country.
Red Bull: Any words for the young girls out there who'd want to pursue their passion the way you did yours?
Naveen: Backflips and pet chickens always help.
Stop talking about it - get going
Follow her journey on Instagram: @naveen.shakil