Simeen Farhat’s innate passion for art began at an early age, with sketching and drawing in the second grade and winning awards for paintings in junior high. Although originally wanting to pursue science and become an engineer, she acknowledges a sister for swaying her in the direction of the art world. “One of my sisters is a graphic designer and said with my natural talent for the fine arts that I should instead consider art school,” says Simeen.
Born in Karachi, Pakistan, Simeen moved to the US to get her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in printmaking. It was during this time that she developed a fascination with language and texts. “I was going to a lot of museum exhibitions, particularly Egyptian exhibitions showcasing beautiful hieroglyphics,” she says. “I was also taking undergraduate anthropology classes, looking at how language has evolved, and that’s where I developed my connection with the power of language.” Simeen’s late father, well versed in Urdu, Farsi and English, also played a tremendous role in the shaping of her work, which can be seen in her recent exhibition, ‘The Breath of Poetry’, which is being held at La Fontaine Centre of Contemporary Art. The show brings to life eloquent words in many languages, by Eastern and Western poets, writers and philosophers, including her own written inspirations. “The breath of poetry has become for me a language of form, of distortion and revelation suspended between the linguistic and the visual,” says Simeen. “The breath of not just my father, but of all of us who strive to reach each other in the inherited forms of culture, sound and shape.”
Her unique style of art is reminiscent of calligraphy and plays with letters and texts to produce striking three-dimensional sculptures that explore deeper issues of human identity. According to Simeen, “Language is how we connect to our past, our present and our future. It’s how we make sense of the world and ourselves. And I’m interested in the poetic or the verses because I like to play with words and I see them as shapes in 3D.”
Simeen’s work has been exhibited worldwide, with major shows in New York, London, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Kuwait and Karachi amongst others. She was recently invited to participate at one of the collateral exhibitions at the 56th Venice Biennale, 2017, and will be exhibiting at the Contemporary Calligraphy Biennale at the Sharjah Museum of Contemporary Art.
Recalling her first exhibition in Bahrain in 2011, Simeen clearly has a soft spot for the island. “I love Bahrain, especially the people, who are very open-minded and laid back,” she says. “It’s a small country but I’ve been very impressed with the art scene and the number of talented artists showing and exhibiting here,” she adds. Pressed on what advice she has for budding Bahraini artists, she says, “I think you have to be honest with yourself. Inspiration is good, but don’t try to imitate what’s trendy at the moment. Just be true to yourself and follow your passion.”
Asked who her favourite artist is, Simeen is quick to respond, and says: “Marcel Duchamp, because I think he was brilliant. He had a lot of wit in his work and was very conceptual, but he was also a very good painter, demonstrated in his classic cubism painting ‘Nude Descending a Staircase’.” And speaking of her own favourite piece, she points to one of her newest works, saying: “I think one of my most cherished pieces is ‘Blood Shot is Blood Loved’, which re-creates the moment a large-scale drop of blood hits the ground.”
When she’s not busy with her art projects, Simeen likes to socialise with her friends and family. “I also have a passion for cooking and like to spend my spare time reading and listening to music,” she says.