Amber Arifeen’s art practice is centred around the challenges women of her generation face as they navigate an ever-changing social landscape in Pakistan. Similar to other societies across the globe, Pakistan has also gone through a major socio-cultural shift as economic development has spread the use of the internet (including social media) and opened the society to outside information through movies, TV, music, and travel. All these changes have increased exposure to the outside world, making women more independent and informed. On the other hand, Pakistani society continues to hold on to traditional thought and values that are heavily rooted in religion and patriarchy. Amber’s art practice reflects on how young women in Pakistan are surviving in these opposing realities by taking advantage of the space in-between, which is both self-constructed and imposed.
This series of work is informed by the ever-vexed relationship between the feminine form and space. The anxiety to contain and conceal oneself in a public setting stems from an inexplicable aversion to one’s body, as if the very contours of the female form are cause for offense. Her work explores and problematizes this dynamic. Amber presents urban women in domestic settings, enlarging their presence on the canvas through unambiguously masculine posturing. Each subject is shown dominating the literal space of the frame; more importantly, the women claim space by elongating, stretching, sprawling their bodies, as if to assert their presence in an otherwise vacant setting. Their body language suggests control and certainty, while the masculine attire underscores an aura of nonchalance and unspoken power. Arifeen’s work highlights the subtle strategies—what we might call “woman-spreading”—that challenge the discourse on women and space. The subjects are rendered in clear and bold strokes while colors spill from the outline, creating a playful contrast between the languid poses and the chaos surrounding them. The clarity of the feminine form amidst vibrant and untamed strokes begs the question of whether there can ever be harmony between mind and body, desire and discipline, speculation and reality. Ultimately, each painting poses itself as a challenge to the viewer, a dare to imagine women as engaging in the simple act of existing unadorned and unapologetic, questioning the boundaries of their bodies, the space they inhabit, and the interplay between the two.