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review of Bina Sharif

by John Clay

People, history, and pain are the subjects of Bina Sharif's visual art. The pain is that of racism, persecution, and war. And the people are the disempowered and displaced, especially those who share the artist's own Islamic heritage. Islamic women oppressed by Islamic men. Islamic peoples oppressed by the overwhelming military and economic power of the US and the West.

Bodily figures, swirling garments, flashes of color, curves and dashes of Arabic or Roman script carrying titles, plays, and poetry—all these are worked in pen and pastel into the carefully selected handcrafted papers which serve as Bina's canvas.

Bina's images are as beautiful and rich as they are violent and grief-stricken. She allows her marks to remain raw, though the effect convinces us that a sensitive mind and profound spirit fastens pigment to page with decisive skill.

My only wish would be to see the artist portray a greater breadth of human experience. When, after a visit to her native country of Pakistan, Bina speaks to friends of the colorful fabrics, the shimmering handmade papers, the scents of spice and perfume, she is filled with delight. And even in her dark poetry, there is a current of wit and humor. I want to find these qualities in the visual art too, and I expect the chances are good as long as this prolific artist honors her right to take pastel to paper in moments of happiness as well as in moments of pain.