‘Sailoon and other Stories’

Fiza Khatri
14 Jun – 31 Jul 2021

In the studio with Fiza Khatri

My paintings chart my lived experience of queerness by depicting moments of everyday intimacy. Using imagery of the people, spaces, and relationships that shape my world, they simultaneously consider the political and structural codes embedded in our social environment.

One of the recurring themes in my work is the haircut, a ritual through which I take ownership of my body. This act of grooming, however quotidian, has been transformative, offering a space through which I access renewal. I allude to this in The Sink, a self-portrait made following a break-up that led me to give myself bold and drastic haircuts.

Shining (detail)

With Shining, I consider how I might transgress acceptable gendered boundaries upon entering a barbershop, which is traditionally a male-dominated space.

I like to imagine that the concern for looking and feeling good, one I share equally with the barber and other clients, dissolves some of the socially inscribed rules for engagement that often privilege heteronormativity.

Sailoon touches upon this idea by emphasising an invitation, presented through a soft, decorated visuality, to a space that is open to multiple genders. Amorous lettering and strings of gainda flowers advertise a service open to ‘ladies and gents.’

Play Video

The relationship of hair to perceived femininity and masculinity, especially within the South Asian context, is something I try to skew. I'm interested in how queerness can therefore be accessed and performed through one's choice of haircut.

Big Sink stages such a performance within the hair-covered sink, now a ritualistic site, focusing on an immediate encounter with the observing body.

In my portraits, I revisit everyday associations from my childhood to consider the role of family and the familial in my adult life.

Heartbreak Pakoras places a homely comfort food, the pakora, which I associate with rain, Ramzan, and my mother, at the centre of a conversation about love and its loss.

(Queen of) Ming Court pulls together quintessential visual cues from a South Asian Chinese restaurant - red paper lantern, starched napkin, laminated menu card - in a familiar embodiment of middle-class family dining, here recast with my chosen family.

Iva’s Spread draws upon the games of Rummy and Hearts that I grew up watching adults play around me, along with the tarot cards that I encounter frequently in my adult life. I'm interested in the proliferation of birth charts, astrology, and the tarot within queer culture, and in undoing the associations that witchcraft and divination have historically had with 'bad' and 'corrupted' women.

Portraiture becomes a way to see and be seen; to pay attention very deeply to those around me, and to grapple with what it means to be visible and represented, politically and personally.

In the two paintings of Umair, I'm thinking through traditional portraiture and how the act of painting from life makes it possible to look really closely at someone. My attention is heightened during this practice, often leading to an intense encounter with the sitter.

My portraiture extends to non-human animals and plants as well. As my friends and I grow our gardens and parent our pets, this form of caregiving and nurturing suggests an acknowledgement that our multi-species environments and ecosystems are essential to our survival. Sharing memes and cute photos of animals has become a common love language.

Installation at Radley Mews, London

Installation at Radley Mews, London

Installation at Radley Mews, London


Fiza Khatri (b.1992, Karachi. Lives and works in Karachi) paints and draws a catalogue of intimate moments from her immediate environment. Her tender, spirited brushwork courses with affection and pulls us through the spaces in which she operates. Pointing to the social constructions that shape her world, Khatri speaks to the complexities of articulating and, to an extent, performing queerness. Khatri is expected to receive her MFA from Yale School of Art in 2023, and was awarded her BA from Mount Holyoke College, Massachusetts in 2015.

Her work has been exhibited most recently at IVS Gallery, Karachi (2019); The Research and Publication Center, Lahore (2019); Photo Kathmandu, Kathmandu (2018); Lahore Biennale Collateral, Lahore (2018); The New York Studio School, New York (2015); Fowler-Kellog Art Centre, Chautauqua (2014).

She has curated projects at VM Art Gallery, Karachi (2020); AAN Gandhara Art Space, Karachi (2018); FOMMA Trust, Karachi (2018); Faraar/The Second Floor, Karachi (2017).