Nisa Khan is the recipient of the Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2021 award. As part of the award Khan's work Have you been sat there plucking your fanny hair? has toured Firstsite, Colchester and South London Gallery. Khan holds an MA (Distinction) in Fine Art from Chelsea College of Arts, where her work The Browns Head Out of Town was shown at Tate Britain's: Late at Tate (2020). Khan's work from rags, to bitches to riches (Sir Ochterlony & His Bibi's) was part of Saatchi Gallery’s London Grads Now. 21 exhibition.
As a multidisciplinary artist, my practice spans across; sculpture, installation, photography, film, performance, and mixed media productions. My practice unpicks multiculturalism by investigating embedded cultural codes and exposing unpleasant, crude, familiar and unfamiliar elements of my working-class British-Pakistani heritage. I draw from early conversations with my mother, whose colourful language contrasted with the strict social codes she attempted to enforce.
The work is often a response to a memory of personal discomfort, shame, or awkwardness; the/my brown body is used as a site of inquiry which archives these diasporic exchanges. My practice revolves around citation and ‘re-mixing’; be that memories, historical references, popular culture and/or cultural signifiers which in turn, translate these experiences. I am interested in humour and its role in representations and use it as a tool which simultaneously translates these experiences and lures the viewer.
The work is a vessel through which Through I re-present alternative representations of the marginalised body as one who is; aware of her sexuality and presents her unique femininity. My work aims to challenge notions of hyperbolic femininity, male-gaze, and Western perceptions of the brown body. It seeks to unpick, subvert/perpetuate cultural expectations surrounding the sexuality and taboos associated with Pakistani/British-Pakistani women.
Mujra: a South Asian style of performance, which was once sophisticated, elegant and considered an elite art form. At its peak as part of India’s Mughal empire, Mujra was a pinnacle part of art and culture. Female performers (Tawaif’s) were exempt from the normal rules of society such as, purdah and marriage. The demise of the Tawaif and marginalisation of Mujra is a result of British colonialism.
Mujra performers use this vocation as a vehicle for survival and social mobility. Many of these women desire an escape, be that through marriage or better still stardom! The artist’s body cites the masculine and hybrid gestures of Pakistani mujra focusing on their desire to be featured on Pakistani film posters and billboards. Despite their (underground) global fanbase these performers are exploited, face heavy censorship and ridicule.
Currently, my research investigates South-Asian dance performances known as Mujra; which pre-Britain’s colonisation of India Mujra was considered an elite art form and, a pinnacle part of Mughal art and culture. Contemporary Mujra is globally enjoyed however, its performers are exploited and exist on the margins of society. With these issues in mind, I use my body to re-perform Pakistani Mujra performers masculine and crude gestures. Often these works begin as video performances which are then appropriated and remixed into photographic, sculptural or installation works.
The work I make as part of this ongoing body of research, is a merger between contemporary and historical Mujra and, Eastern and Western landscapes and languages. In repositioning the work in the British arts context, the work aims to draw attention to hidden histories and discuss the culture of colonising brown female bodies. In debasing and marginalising Mujra dancers (women) an entire arts industry was lost, a female, performing body was no longer pious.