Pak­istan diplo­mat takes cen­tre stage at Roth­well

Orleans Star - - ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT - Laura Cum­mings

For diplo­mat and am­a­teur artist Naela Cho­han, a ci­ti­zen of the world by virtue of her day job, it’s fit­ting the strug­gles of women around the globe has prompted her creative call­ing.

“I’m not a com­mer­cial artist; I don’t sell my art,” says Cho­han, the lo­cally-based deputy high com­mis­sioner for Pak­istan, of her mo­ti­va­tions and main sub­ject mat­ter, which cen­tres on women’s strug­gles and tri­umphs. “I try to reach out. I try to cre­ate aware­ness, but also cre­ate sol­i­dar­ity. The crux of the prob­lems re­ally re­mains the same (in ev­ery coun­try).”

The self-taught can­vas-and-oil painter – who be­came com­mis­sioner last year af­ter her hus­band, Musa Javed Cho­han, re­tired from the po­si­tion – fur­ther un­veiled her creative side at Glouces­ter’s Roth­well Gallery last week, as part of an evening to help raise funds for women in her na­tive coun­try.

Art From the Heart was launched on Tues­day, July 21 at Roth­well to a full house, in­clud­ing Lau­reen Harper, wife of Prime Min­is­ter Stephen Harper. The work, which was on dis­play un­til Satur­day, July 25, is a ret­ro­spec­tive of Cho­han’s 12 years in the paint­ing world.

“I re­al­ized the uni­ver­sal­ity in (women’s) is­sues,” she re­counts of her start in the art world. “I started train­ing my­self.”

Her new­est piece, en­ti­tled In Search of Peace, was sold via si­lent auc­tion this past week­end at Roth­well, with all pro­ceeds go­ing to sup­port the women of Pak­istan’s Swat re­gion, who are cur­rently in­ter­nally dis­lo­cated.

“It’s art from the heart,” Cho­han ex­plains with a laugh. “It’s my emo­tions that lead me to use a medium.”

Though Art from the Heart is her first full exhibit, Cho­han has pre­vi­ously hung work at UNESCO – whose head­quar­ters has one of her pieces on per­ma­nent dis­play – as well as the Mu­seum of Is­lamic Art in Malaysia and gifted one paint­ing to Gov­er­nor-Gen­eral Michaëlle Jean.

The de­ci­sion to show at Roth­well and make it home base for the char­ity fundraiser comes in part be­cause of owner Re­hana Mufti’s ties to the Pak­istani-Cana­dian com­mu­nity, Cho­han ex­plains, as well as a good­bye to her home of four years, as she and her hus­band de­part for an­other diplo­matic as­sign­ment.

“I feel (Cana­di­ans of Pak­istani ori­gins) are do­ing a great job in Canada,” she says. “They’re form­ing bridges.”

Un­for­tu­nately, Cho­han con­tin­ues, Pak­istan is “lit­tle-known in the West­ern world,” other than for shar­ing a bor­der with Afghanistan and mak­ing news re­lated to ex­trem­ism and vi­o­lence.

“There are artists and cul­ture com­ing from Pak­istan,” she adds.“(I wanted) to show the softer side.”

For her part, Mufti – who was born in Pak­istan, but has lived in Ottawa for the bet­ter part of four decades – says rais­ing aware­ness is key to why she de­cided to part­ner in the exhibit and char­ity auc­tion.

“There’s been a lot of things hap­pen­ing in Pak­istan where women and chil­dren are be­ing dis­placed from their homes,” she ex­plains. “We have so much in Ottawa. For us to even imag­ine what they go through is very, very dif­fi­cult. I want to give some­thing back to my birth coun­try if I can.”

The idea for the show­case evolved via her friend­ship with Cho­han, Mufti con­tin­ues, point­ing to her “amaz­ing,” evoca­tive paint­ings and the aware­ness they’ve cre­ated.

“The friend­ship has re­ally built (through this ini­tia­tive),” she re­counts. “We feel ex­tremely strongly about women’s is­sues … we wanted to do it from our hearts.”

For more in­for­ma­tion, pleas e v isit www.roth­well­

Photo by Eti­enne Ranger

Lau­reen Harper greets Roth­well Gallery owner Re­hana Mufti as Naela Cho­han, Pak­istan’s deputy high com­mis­sioner to Canada, looks on.

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