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An artist from Karachi, Pakistan, Rija Qutaibah began her journey into artistry when she was 14. Her father didn’t approve of art as a career option, so she got a marketing degree. However, Rija stuck with her dreams and went back to school for an art degree, graduating from the National College of Arts, Lahore. Today, Rija works as a freelancer and designs for an ad agency.
For Rija, art is all about expression and each piece that she creates has a personal connection. She is known for her subtle, melancholic, gothic style and enjoys creating faces and commonly adds distinct line art into her work. She likes to work in pen and pencil.
In her ‘Not for Sale’ design, Rija portrays how women should have the freedom to be as alluring and attractive as they want without being objectified. This design also speaks to the Trafficking and slavery epidemic that is present in every nation in the world. Women art especially target and sold into slavery against there will, being treated as a commodity rather than human beings.
I think I have a special connection with the arts. I was always “that girl” who was too shy to talk to someone or even say what I truly wanted. When I was 7, my mom told me not to draw on walls, but the little rebel in me would always find a way. I would hide under the bed and scribble drawings, creating my masterpieces while making sure my mother couldn’t spot them (but she always did). She would scold me and later laugh about it. She then became my biggest supporter to pursue arts.
My first degree was in Marketing and my second in Design. I was quite unhappy at the time, but now when I think back I am grateful for my education. It taught me more than it teaches most. I was also a writer for a while; I would write poetry, as well as content writing for websites. My skill set kept expanding and my hunger to learn just couldn’t be satisfied. I still feel I have a long way to go and I appreciate all the mistakes and hardships along the way that taught me more than my achievements.
I find art to be the best way to express myself, my thoughts and my emotions. It is my way to communicate with the world — my voice that tries to say what I, at times, cannot articulate. It is in the act of creating something that I am most at peace. I think if there was one thing I would like to do for the rest of my life, it would be to just draw. Not for fame or for recognition but simply because it makes me happy.
My artwork does not follow any style or technique, as such. I just try to envision things through whatever inspires me. Sometimes it is a song, sometimes a picture and sometimes even a person. My artwork is like my diary where I can be completely myself without fear of judgement. I use repetitive lines in my work that create patterns and shapes and I really like detailed illustrations that have unique styles.
I have, over the years, tried to simplify my work, trying to apply logic just as much as creativity. I love using large colour palettes and whatever materials I can find around me. These include nail polish, toothbrushes, ink, charcoal pencils, and highlighters. I used to be afraid of using a lot of colour in my artwork but now I really enjoy experimenting with colour palettes.
I was very excited when my piece for Stand Up Speak Up came out and I saw my work displayed for the first time. It felt like a personal achievement that I could be proud of. Not for Sale is a black and white illustration of a beautiful woman with the words tattooed on her skin. There are circles with different patterns behind her, creating a somewhat hypnotic image overall. What I wanted to highlight when making this illustration was that women often find it hard to express their sexuality and femininity in society.
I live in Pakistan and it is difficult for women to truly be whoever they want to be due to social norms. While I love my city and all that it offers, I often find it strange how women carry a heavy load of expectations on them. It is what dictates their look, appearance, and behaviour. Of course, I feel this applies to women all over the world. Women can sell more through their appearance than they can through their skills, for example. The idea behind this piece was to place emphasis on how women should have the freedom to be whoever they want to be without being objectified.
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