MFA Portfolio Critique

This video is a critique of an MFA portfolio by Zainab Zulfiqar. A detailed critique is provided of the overall portfolio, explaining overall strategies that are recommended to the artist. This is followed by critiques for each individual artwork in the portfolio, considering the factors that many MFA programs are looking for in potential candidates. Critique led by Art Prof Clara Lieu.

Featured Artist

Zainab Zulfiqar

“I have recently graduated from National College of Arts, Pakistan/Lahore- after completing my BFA, with a distinction in fine arts/Miniature Painting (May, 2021). I would like to get feedback on my portfolio and artist statement because I want to apply for further studies (MFA) abroad and there are little to no resources to help me, so this critique would be extremely advantageous for me.

Especially as a queer artist living in a third world country where being queer/non binary can result in a very isolating practice. My long term goal is to create a safe space for myself within my art and to further experiment with my work and self expression.

My work revolves around ritualistic flashbacks, as well as coping with the invasions of safe spaces, and how the documentation of these instances affect an individual. I am particularly invested in how negative nostalgia has contributed to changing my experiences of space, time, and memory. I remember the first time it hit me, I was working on a project based around Tracey Emin’s work ‘My bed,’ and felt so uncomfortable and familiar with the feeling of despising my own room.

A room that possessed evidence and history of generational trauma and memory. In these moments, I realized how disassociated I had become by my own past that when I was finally confronted with it, it held me hostage, without warning.

One of my main bodies of work started with writing and rewriting these feelings and washing them away, leaving ghost writings behind, because it gave me a sense of control and comfort as if I was washing away evidence of my own realities. The project became one of the main bodies of work I have produced over the years. It gave me a sense of freedom I never had growing up since I had to hide my sexuality, queerness as well as my interests in being non-binary.

I have tried to come to terms with trauma by considering the absurd in the mundane; how these everyday sounds, muscle memories, places, realities, and emotions weave together to become an absurd emotional reality that can trigger the past easily with no suspicion.

‘Sometimes the impact of sexual trauma doesn’t seem to measure up to that of collectively experienced historical events, such as war and genocide. Sometimes it seems invisible because it is confined to the domestic or private sphere. Sometimes it doesn’t appear sufficiently catastrophic because it doesn’t produce dead bodies or even, necessarily, damaged ones,’ An Archive of Feelings, by Ann Cvetkovich.

This is why I have started cultivating a sort of fantastical narrative through my drawings, which are inspired by Persian and Lucknow miniatures based on storytelling and stylization. This is also achieved by creating figures and spaces that are distorted, converging into each other, and at times showing blocks of disassociation. While also using video art with juxtaposed/ overlapping sounds to investigate the meaning of living through familiar surroundings but still being alienated. Since the very act of stylization has made the process much more palatable, not only for myself but also for the viewer.

The family unit is also something I am investigating; how it can come from a source of generational trauma that is never addressed. While making each individual live in a nuclear heteronormative system, completely isolated due to the social and cultural maintenance of appearances of perfection and silence.

I refuse to look at trauma only through clerical eyes, but want to divulge into the pains of researching into my own past as well as my personal history, and how generational trauma is inescapable, while simultaneously accepting the shreds of evidence of anger, pain, and the tributes that are being made in the process. This is why a big part of my process at times is to work with washes and written text since it enhances the safe space within my own world that I am trying to build.”

Zainab Zulfiqar

Questions I have:

  • How do I make my portfolio better in regards to curation and streamlining work?
  • Do you have tips for international students when they apply to universities abroad?
  • How do I deal with being put into a box as a queer brown person or how to stop putting yourself into that box?
  • Do universities like RISD/Yale put a lot of importance on resume or how much volunteer work/exhibitions you have done
  • How to not feel exhausted or burnt out after your BFA thesis, or even hopeless if you can’t find suitable jobs or exhibitions?