Noorain Inam in the Studio
Advisory Perspective

Noorain Inam in the Studio

By Annabel Downes | London, 23 January 2023

Storytelling is at the heart of Noorain Inam's destabilising interior spaces, for which the artist reinterprets personal stories to curate a fantastical world.

Inam trained as a miniature painter at the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture in her hometown of Karachi, Pakistan, graduating with a BFA in 2019. In pursuit of an MFA in Painting at the Slade School of Fine Art, she soon moved to London.

Just six months on from graduating, the London-based artist has her first U.K. solo exhibition, A dream that visited every night (26 January–4 March 2023) at indigo+madder, presenting paintings that emerge from deeply personal stories of growing up as a young woman.

Noorain Inam, An irresistible and indiscriminate urge to sting (2022). Acrylic on canvas. 140 x 90 cm.

Noorain Inam, An irresistible and indiscriminate urge to sting (2022). Acrylic on canvas. 140 x 90 cm. Courtesy the artist and indigo+madder, London.

Ahead of the opening, Inam discusses finding her feet in London, the impact of Lubaina Himid's Tate Modern show, and her love for the eerie tales of Mexican writer Amparo Dávila.

Congratulations on your first solo show in London. How are you feeling about it?

Honestly, it's been a surreal experience. I had the chance to reflect on past experiences in moments of solitude in a very busy city. This body of work feels like a response to those feelings. Of course, with that comes a few nerves given the nature and context of the work.

Having said that, being tucked away working in the studio since July, I am really excited to finally have the artworks out in the world and to see people's responses to them.

Your work references the trials and tribulations of moving from Karachi to London, and the challenge of straddling life between two cities. What was the biggest adjustment?

I grew up in a relatively conservative and sheltered environment in Karachi and built a childlike curiosity for the world around me.

Arriving in London at the age of 23, I felt like a sponge soaking everything in. Whether it was figuring out how to navigate the tube or admiring the work of my favourite artists at the Tate, it was all so new.

In Karachi, there isn't too much to see in terms of museums so the only access I had to these artworks was via art magazines or coffee table books. I remember flicking through a book on Rothko and thinking that they must be really small paintings. Only now do I realise the scale.

Noorain Inam.

Noorain Inam. Courtesy indigo+madder, London. Photo: Matthew Coles.

Visiting shows and having conversations with strangers at galleries shapes how you begin to see the world and I think it's wonderful how art provides this escape for storytelling.

What did you think of Lubaina Himid's Tate Modern show?

It was the first time I'd been to the Tate Modern and I'd never seen a show on that scale. Looking at the paintings, I felt as if a play was being acted out in front of me—the colours were so vibrant, I was completely immersed in it.

I made a note of the feeling I had, that I would remember that day for some time. I look back on that day with so much fondness now.

Noorain Inam, 15 sleepless nights (2022). Acrylic on canvas. 200 x 220 cm.

Noorain Inam, 15 sleepless nights (2022). Acrylic on canvas. 200 x 220 cm. Courtesy the artist and indigo+madder, London.

15 sleepless nights seems very emotive, depicting a tarot card upon a chair with a blazing fire behind. You can also spot a phoenix emerging from the fire. Can you explain the impetus behind this painting?

I had been thinking about darkness for some time. In preparing for this show, I had the chance to reflect on a more tumultuous period of my life, and came to the realisation that you need a reservoir of complete blackness for light to exist.

That light for me is represented in this fire. Its inclusion is not necessarily a grand expression of a powerful experience, but rather a metaphor for the slow and tentative process of discovering my own way of storytelling—a kind of silent rebirth. The phoenix was that chance to set a place, a past life, or a way of being behind me.

As for the tarot card, I've always been curious about the questions surrounding what is 'known' and what isn't. While they're not something you come across back home in Pakistan, I found a tarot card set in a bookstore a couple of months after moving to London.

I was immediately drawn to the visual imagery and how reminiscent they were of the miniature paintings I studied when an undergraduate. I was fascinated by the rendering of characters, the storytelling, and the mystery around each image.

Noorain Inam in the Studio

Courtesy indigo+madder, London. Photo: Matthew Coles.

The Mexican writer Amparo Dávila has been a big influence for you . Could you explain her writing and its impact on your practice?

When I first moved to London, I encountered a quote of Dávila's: 'The three greatest mysteries of life are love, death, and madness'. As someone who was beginning to experience all those moments in all their glory, it had a profound impact on me.

Fear is a supportive character in so many of her stories, and one that I knew all too well having just moved to a new city. In painting, I found a space to channel these irrational fears and superstitions. As I found myself growing braver with each chapter of Dávila's book, I also became braver with every painting.

Noorain Inam in the Studio

Courtesy indigo+madder, London. Photo: Matthew Coles.

The size of your paintings varies quite considerably—some measuring 10 by 15 centimetres, while others are over two metres. Could you talk about these choices?

When training in miniature painting, I'd be working on canvases measuring about 15 to 20 centimetres. Working in this style, and in such close proximity, taught me to be mindful of how I interacted with the canvas. It got me thinking about the intimate dialogue that miniature paintings created between an artist and viewer.

My relationship with scale really shifted when I saw Rothko for the first time at Tate Modern. The scale, powerful gestures, and bold colours were nothing like anything I'd ever seen before, and it struck me how a painting of this scale could still retain moments of real solitude and quiet intimacy.

The works I've created for this exhibition play on this realisation—that intimacy between artist and viewer can still be achieved on a much larger scale.

What's next?

I've got a few things lined up so I'll likely be heading back to the studio. Making art has opened up a whole new world for me, and I'm just so glad that it's embraced me the way it has. As long as I'm painting and telling stories, I'm happy. —[O]

Main image: Noorain Inam. Courtesy indigo+madder, London. Photo: Matthew Coles.

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