Contemporary mughal art from across the border

Pakistani artist, Syed Muhammad Khayyam Shah‘s miniature mughal paintings are different. We choose to speak to the 28 year old whose artworks are done with natural pigments. like his faded faces accentuating beautiful textiles of a bygone era.




MD: Briefly tell us about your childhood and family background.

S.M. Khayyam: I belong to a Sufi family. My great grandfather migrated from Amritsar  to Lahore in his youth. He was a Sufi saint and poet known by the name of Baba Hussain Shah. My grandfather moved to Quetta (Baluchistan) from Lahore. He worked for Radio Pakistan. Being fond of music he played sitar. My father a government servant, was also known as “Hakeem” (Urdu word for physician who treats with herbal medicine) in our vicinity. My mother had a orthodox upbringing.  She earlier herself kept busy with embroidery and ceramics.

I have three brothers and two sisters. And I am the youngest amongst my siblings. As long as I can remember I have intently observed my father constructing origami objects and small wooden houses. He was one of my first teachers. Every day I also sat with my mother to learn embroidery or make clothes for my little sister’s dolls.

MD: What made you take up art as a profession?

S.M. Khayyam: I have been very lucky to get the support of my family since childhood. They encouraged me to pursue whatever I wanted, from the beginning. I keenly noticed  the activities around me. It helped in becoming the best version of myself.

Drawing had always been my passion, and so I became an artist. I had a teacher who inspired me and showed me a world that intrigued me further.




MD: India and Pakistan share Mughal history. Are you by any chance, through art, hinting at our rich and vibrant textile heritage? 

S.M. Khayyam: Yes, India and Pakistan do share history. Basically, I appreciate Mughal textiles, and the way they are presented in miniatures. I’m glad, it was a big part of their art practice. Now atleast, we have some pictorial evidence of that heritage.

MD: As an artist do you hope the subcontinent comes together creatively, since arts and crafts is one of the largest industries here.  

S.M. Khayyam: Definitely, India and Pakistan should collaborate to take art and culture forward, by not just leaning on the past. Speaking the same language I believe we will prosper. As humans we cannot and should not draw boundaries on creativity.

MD: What has caught your attention lately?

S.M. Khayyam: Recently I visited the Louvre museum in Abu Dhabi. There I came across some old Kufic manuscripts which moved me. Since then I have been practicing calligraphy.

MD: Who are the people you admire in the art world?

S.M. Khayyam: I have always been a big fan of Leonardo Da Vinci and Van Gogh. The works of Anselm Kiefer, David Hockney, Anish Kapoor, Damien Hirst and Vija Celmins too have enormously affected my sensibilities.


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