Name: Laila Tara H
Major: World Politics
Did you know? Her works are exhibited in London, Paris and New York
Athéna: Today, I am sitting with Laila Tara H, who graduated in 2016 in World Politics. She is now a painter exhibiting her art in London, Paris and NY. So Laila, how did you get there after LUC?
Laila: During my time at LUC, I was painting. Sneaking brush-time between tense reading weeks and escaping to ateliers in our time off. That’s what was needed for my mind and somehow I built up a huge amount of technical ability in those stolen study-gaps.
After LUC, I took a year to make the switch. Developing portfolios, figuring out direction. You end up in this mindset while you’re in a place like ours though – a little bubble of academic knowledge and hierarchy. Accidentally, I fell into a purely practical Master’s at The Prince’s School of Traditional Arts where I studied Miniature Painting from 2017 to 2019. No bibliography, just brushwork.
Athéna: So your Master’s was very hands-on, but how did you develop your painting style? It seems like your work is tainted by your cultural heritage. From your experience, how does an artist find its niche?
Laila: I wouldn’t say tainted. My heritage informs my work – I use the Indo-Persian miniature painting as a language of sorts. It began from an attempt to leash myself to my lineage and has developed outwards since. I come from the same place that miniature painting comes from but the manuscripts and I share something else. We are birthed out of migration but in our lives, we’ve been dislocated and distributed. The majority of our manuscripts have been torn into single folios and they live in rooms titled “Asia collection” or “Iran collection” in vast museums. They’re untouchable, unreadable, and fit in clean boxes. But if you’re looking at tradition, it’s this living, breathing unstable thing that goes through history and that then gets continued. So, I’m taking the Persian painting tradition and almost reappropriating it. I have the privilege of selectivity because I’m outside of its original context and perhaps that’s where the style shows itself.
In truth, it’s impossible to find your niche. A style, a niche, or a specialism, is a symptom more than it’s the base goal. It’s something that happens on its own volition as you work. It’s inevitable.
Athéna: To go back, you mentioned you finished your master’s in 2019. The COVID pandemic started in 2020, how did it affect your career as an artist?
Laila: During my degree, I was working a lot. A lot of freelancing. Odd jobs. A lot of design, a lot of assisting, and time spent at galleries. Then the pandemic hit and those jobs ended. Instead, it was quiet, no expectation. The world was (and still is) on fire but I had this perfect moment of peace to produce as I wanted.
Athéna: So how does one go from studying arts to exhibiting their art?
Laila: It’s different from person to person. Apply to everything, set up shows on your own or with friends. Most galleries will approach you rather than the other way – control is limited from your side.
Athéna: When it comes to boundaries between your job and yourself, can you separate yourself from your artwork? I have the impression that for more conventional jobs, it is easier to establish distance between one’s identity and their job. What is your experience as an artist?
Laila: Painting is my whole life. It became my whole life and it’s such a privilege to have it as my whole life. It’s not like I have to be working 16 hours a day, but rather I get to work 16 hours a day doing this thing that I absolutely love. Maybe I would have worked those hours anyway, doing something else, but now I get to do them with purpose. I have the privilege of not needing to separate myself from my work.
Athéna: I can imagine that producing art is more complicated when you’re in a good space, maybe more than another more conventional job?
Laila: Kind of, but equally work is work. If you have a deadline, you do the deadline. We put in as much energy as we can, no matter what industry we’re in.
Athéna: Looking back on your experiences, how did what you studied at LUC impact what you ended up doing today?
Laila: LUC was a nice, steady, and comfortable continuation of a way of thinking that I grew up with. But I also think it can be 50/50 for people. It’s hard to say how/if it impacted my work. I think the mentality was something that stayed – the rigorous work and critical take. I wouldn’t change that.
Athéna: So looking back, what would be your advice maybe to your younger self or to some people who may be experiencing the same situation as you did?
Laila: Truth be told, the few years that you have in your undergrad, no matter what you’re studying, have value. I had moments of gut-wrenching doubt in my 3 years – friends would peel me off the floor as I’d have existential crises about what I was studying. Pointless. Let’s say you start LUC directly after high school, you can come out of it at 21, that’s nothing, you can become a neurosurgeon after LUC. No one knows shit. Just do what you gotta do and move on. Figure out the rest later.
Athéna: To conclude this interview, where can people see your art?
Laila: I’m currently on show in London at Public Gallery, in New York at Drake’s and Future Fair, and in Paris at Drawing Now Fair. But you’ll always find me on Instagram.
This post was part of a larger series of “portraits” of Alumni. Want to be featured, have questions for Laila, or about alumni in general? Do not hesitate to reach out to Evolucio via our website, Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook or firstname.lastname@example.org.