Bushra Waqas Khan, a Lahore-based printer and dressmaker, is reviving state documents like affidavit stamp papers by creating complex hand-stitched tiny couture items out of them. The little gowns are densely laden with political symbolism, addressing issues such as colonialism and the female body. The artist’s work is currently on display at the Indian Art Fair (IAF), and she was recently profiled by Vogue for the event.
The artist describes how she got enamoured with the five-pointed star nested within the crescent moon, which she stole from the design of the affidavit stamp paper.
“That piece of paper carried more importance than who you are in Pakistan,” she told Vogue, adding, “It’s a proof of possession, and our lives are all connected to it in some way.”
“While women bequeath their heirloom jewellery and garments to their daughters, fathers offer this piece of paper to their male heirs,” the National College of Arts (NCA) graduate added about how the paper plays a role in property ownership and inheritance. Bushra wants to examine the disproportionate distribution of wealth between male and female heirs and criticise Pakistan’s unfair family system through her works.
“Looking at the motifs on the stamp paper, they don’t appear to be from this area.”
“Remove the star and crescent insignia, as well as the printed ‘Pakistan’ phrase, and everything else is Western,” she argues. “The clothing, too, are a mix of civilizations. They are a mixture of who we are.”
The artist uses surplus fabric that would otherwise be discarded in a frock named “A Well-Loved Slice of Leftovers.” “I have felt ‘left over’ so many times, in terms of being a woman,” she said of her thought process behind the magnificent silk and organza design, adding, “It’s a sensation many women face, as they are typically the last ones to be considered of.”
Bushra debuted her first miniature garment in 2019, after being named a finalist for the Jameel Prize, which is organised by the Victoria & Albert Museum in London in conjunction with Art Jameel and aims to recognise excellence in contemporary art and design influenced by the Islamic tradition.