Zehra Khan is a multi-disciplinary artist who works in drawing, sculpture, installation, photography and film. A Pakistani-American born in Indonesia, she lived in Europe before moving to the US in 1994. She received a BS from Skidmore College in 2000 and an MFA from the Mass College of Art & Design at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown in 2009. She has exhibited widely, including UMass Amherst, UMass Lowell, Worchester State University, Montgomery College, and the Boston Childrens Museum. She has hosted workshops and lectures at a variety of institutions including the School of the Museum of Fine Arts and Roger Williams University.
Zehra was awarded a Massachusetts Cultural Council fellowship in Drawing in 2012, and is a participant of the NYC Drawing Center Viewing Program and the deCordova Museum Corporate Lending Program. She lives and works in Provincetown.
I transform my friends and myself into animals, painting directly on skin. This initiates a more social and collaborative art practice, and by painting on bodies I participate in acts of intimacy which are in themselves performances of social engagement. My painted volunteers become animal characters activating their environment, fictions drawn to understand natural, human behavior. Much like a kid building a fort out of pillows, it is the process of construction where I gather joy. The creation of this work spills into my real life, involving my friends, travel, playing, reacting, and assessing.
The animal character is placed within an environment/installation; a complete painted background on paper or sheets, or sometimes a recognizable reality of beds, nightstands, and beer collides with drawn elements. This environment plays with two-dimensional drawings crafted into three-dimensional scenarios - like old theater scenery of cutout waves moving against one another to simulate the movement of the ocean. I change the scale, proportions and relationships of the viewer within the space with these low-fi illusions.
The final product of this act is a photograph or film in which the viewer glimpses the surreal high jinks of a human disguised as a giant rat. Showing the photograph alongside the actual installation or filmed performance reveals more of the illusion and the process.
In a moment often indistinguishable between playing and fighting, my animals speak to the hazards of human relationships. In the vulnerable experience of searching for love and companionship, many of my creatures rely on alcohol, or they become social smokers. With these blunders come anger, excessive indulgence, frenzy, bliss and bitterness, which dramatize the complex motives of people who are trying to attract a mate. To become attractive, do we start to objectify ourselves, and to whose standards? I draw these characters integrating the personal with an art history canon, lampooning stereotypes pushed in advertising and pop culture.