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We all love to imagine what it’s going to be like living in the future and many a time, Sci-Fi films give shapes to such imaginations. But what exactly might change and what would remain intact? Have you thought about that? The changing landscapes of urban spaces with tall skyscrapers have already made living ‘closer to the sky possible’ but does it mean our connection with earthy roots will disappear? Will hi-tech technologies curtail the little joys and pleasures in our everyday life? From our cherished chai-session by roadside teashops to dhoodhwalas delivering door-to-door milk, will all these just be a ‘thing of the past’?
Well, for 30-year-old Pakistani illustrator and designer Omar Gilani, no matter how advanced we get, there will be a few intangible elements alive despite development. Gilani’s vibrant and peppy artworks have taken Pakistan by storm, and now, even the world has been mesmerised by its futurist imagination. And with a similar desi-element, Indians have found a common ground to appreciate his work. So, we got in touch with the Lahore-based self-taught artist to explore more.
Gilani says that he always enjoyed drawing but never thought he could turn his passion into his profession. “I’ve always enjoyed drawing, but it was at hobby status for the longest time. In Peshawar where I grew up, art wasn’t considered a profession, and so I pursued studies in Engineering.” The artist who has MSc in Mechanical Engineering (Design), and an MPhil in Robotics realised very recently that art could be made into a viable career. He began learning more about digital art to pursue his dream through books and online tutorials and initially approached the work part-time, managing between passion and work about four years ago.
Starting off with his passion-career he worked on all sorts of commercial designing projects –from manual design to magazine covers to website backgrounds to posters. He has even worked for the United Nations, Save the Children initiative and British Council in the country. Throwing light about these prestigious project Gilani said, “With the UN I designed a couple of books and safety manuals for schools, and for Save the Children I created art for a child empowerment campaign.” Currently, he is also working in the mobile game industry, and for working with Patari.pk, country’s leading music startup.
Talking about the recent Sci-Fi artworks that have awed everyone that designer said it was not a planned one. “This project is pretty recent; I made a few pieces sporadically over the past year when I got back home from work, just for fun. It was around November 2016, when I quit my day job, that I gave this more focused attention.”
Most of the paintings in Sci-Fi project are an amalgamation of the earthy essence and ultramodern advancement. On asking what inspires him, he said, “As for inspirations, I think it’s the perfect marriage of my love for Sci-Fi with the culture that I’m most familiar with. In that sense I never had to force myself to paint or scramble to find inspiration; each painting has been pure joy.” Delving on why he decided to give a futuristic twist to everyday scenes, Gilani noted: “I think there are segments of society in Pakistan, and perhaps India as well, that still live in the past, no matter how much the technology around them may progress. I expect that to continue in the future. Of course, there will be super futuristic urban centres that will look like any other super futuristic urban centres around the world, but my interest was in capturing the essence of more rustic Pakistani culture, and how tech advancements would (or wouldn’t) affect that.”
The colourful digital paintings include imageries of many powerful women, often with loaded guns and stylish avatar, little startling to an otherwise conservative image of country’s women. Noting that it’s “partially correct” that there is a lack of freedom for women in Pakistan, he highlighted, “Women do enjoy great freedom in the urban centres.” And through his work, he tried to capture both urban and rural dimensions. “Pakistan is a mixed bag in that regard, and I’ve kept it mixed to reflect that. You’ll see a woman in a burqa in my work, but you’ll also see a road warrior lady toting an assault rifle,” he added.
But along with such powerful portrayal of women and development poverty too has secured a berth in his creation. Even in the ambitious project, there are images of ‘cyborg-beggar’ – a child begging outside the window of a car. Talking about the gripping image the engineer-turned-artist lamented, “There may be great advancements in tech and cybernetics, but I don’t see any evidence to show that federal level incompetence in dealing with poverty and overpopulation will decrease.”
He also drew a comparison to another spectacular image and added, “Same can be seen in the ‘Galli Cricket’ painting, where there are great urban development and towering skyscrapers, but poor kids still play cricket on the streets.”
But no matter what, optimism seems to be a driving force for this talent soul who keeps drawing inspiration for anything and everything. And his optimism is perhaps best portrayed through the series of image of a little girl with a red balloon painted against various backdrops. Talking about the interesting project he remarked, “I basically wanted to show a brave little girl who has retained her innocence as she wanders around Pakistan and is exposed to various situations. I’d like to return to that project in the future, perhaps in the form of a game or animation.”
With a quest for travelling and “getting lost in new places” Omar Gilani is certainly an inspiration for all who want to follow their heart and passion.