Sahar Ansari is an incredibly talented illustrator and artist who has worked in the local advertising industry for some time. In true artistic fashion, she recently quit her job in Lahore and moved to…Rio de Janeiro. Just like that! She has a lot of interesting things to say about creative work in Pakistan and Latin America, originality and lack thereof, politics and hard work, and much more. Read on!
1. So the most obvious question first: What are you doing in Brasil?!
My father was working in Brazil in the 70’s till early 80’s. I was born in Rio de Janeiro, hence I have always been a citizen of Brazil.
My sister came to live in Rio and I went to visit her in 2012. My passport was expiring so I stayed an extra month to renew it. By that time I fell back in love with the city I was born in, and decided to stay!
2. Do you plan on returning on Pakiland any time soon?
Not anytime soon. I am still looking for work here, and it has taken over a year to relearn Brasilian Portuguese which I had completely forgotten. And even now, I am not excellent at it – especially in order to converse fluently. I can read and write pretty good, and to an extent converse too, but not enough to be able to work in the creative sector, where communication is the main tool of trade.
Also, to be quite honest, I plan to stay here for quite a while, and then maybe move around the world.
3. Describe your ideal client.
OOOPs hahah, as if there was such a thing as an ‘ideal client’ in reality!
I have enjoyed working with almost all my clients, even the ones I fought the most with. My field is written and design communication. And a lot of problems arise due to miscommunication – so it is a loop!
For me, an ideal client would make all commitments and queries, in the written format. I am a very friendly person and I really do love ‘one on ones’, but professionally I prefer being instructed and sent feedback, in the written format. So there is less time wasted on verbal misunderstandings, name callings, ‘he said – she said’, and more time spent on actual problem solving. The written format also helps keep work in line with deadlines and expectations. If there is a verbal agreement, it should as soon as possible be followed by minutes of the meeting, that both agree on.
4. How would you compare the Pakistani/Desi design aesthetic with that of your new home?
Well, Latin America is where it is all happening at! The majority of the campaigns and designs that win awards, and are applauded the world over take birth here. Hence my first impression was, ‘Oh man, everyone is a genius here, every third person you meet related to this field here, has won at least 2 Individual International Awards.’
The culture of working on adapts and chapas, or just ripping off obscure campaigns, is unheard of here.
Back in Pakistan, a lot of students, and some of my colleagues and acquaintances even in prestigious universities, picked up work and passed off as their own on their own theses – hoping madly the juror does not find out. And many even got away. This is the biggest crime you can commit against your own integrity- to pass off someone else’s work as your own. This is what halts growth and progress. Taking inspiration is natural, but ripping of the whole concept is murder.
Even some of the bigger agencies here, with ample resources, and help, turn a blind eye to this practice – Most of ‘original’ work is just an ‘original most’ adapt. Pakistan was much more original many decades ago, with their memorable ‘Binaca, Montgomery sweet ads’…
I am sure many seniors in the advertising agency will disagree with me, touting most of the new work as ‘ground breaking’. We are not even at a stage where we are at par with our neighbor India’s advertising standards.
I have had the opportunity to work with the best of clients and the worst of agencies. The problem does not lie with the clients anymore, but the agency mindset, and hierarchy set up. I have seen people get unprofessionally fired due to personal reasons not even remotely related to work, and that misbehavior and unprofessional ethics were backed by ‘Desi back’ of knowing the ‘heads’ running the system. I have seen professional heads being full aware of the situation, admitting it – and still going ahead with unprofessional behavior, because at the end of the day THEY CAN DO IT.
On the other hand Design Aesthetics spring from honest and willing minds, with new blood given chances and the opportunities to express their hopes. With the old opening their minds to relearn new ideas, instead of shutting down due to insecurity and authoritarian attitude. Dream squashing starts very early on, from your very own teachers at your colleges, who partake in this nasty business of promoting who they like, and squashing who they don’t get along with – despite the quality and integrity of talent.
There are many who fought the system and came on top, and many lost the battle while trying. Many succumbed to just going with the flow – solely to be able to earn just so they could to feed their family.
Here it is also the same, with politics. Except mediocre work is not your start…you don’t even get the opportunity to work with them if you are not good enough. Your talent is spotted and groomed, and then the politics begin. By that time the individuals are groomed enough to work startups and run individual business and freelance- producing excellent and mind numbing originality and quality in their works.
5. How do you keep yourself energized and motivated?
By keeping my faith in God. And believing that this is no coincidence that i have landed in the hub of amazing work production….In a year I have been humbled beyond words. I am nothing compared to sheer talent and work ethics I have observed here…
6. Which is your favorite project/work (your own)?
7. Has the move to Brazil had any effect on your work as an artist? Has the uncertainty and culture shock helped inspire you?
Brasil has changed my outlook completely. I no longer want to work just to support my life, I want my life to support my work, and I want both to complement each other. I want my life and my work to be of equal quality, instead of spending away my life working late nights with thankless soul sucking offices I experienced in Pakistan. Where some fathers haven’t even met their new born for days (LIVING IN THE SAME CITY)… for what? Mediocre work…they work their lives away to earn salaries just to survive. There is no pride in the work…most of use just showed contempt for the very work we sacrificed our life hours for.
To choose to work in a creative field is the first choice you make towards honoring your life ideals. To want to make a difference and contribute by the power of your expression. But these dreams die early deaths, when your work is equal to a brick laborer, with the only exception that your wages are far better.
8. Lahore or Rio?
Right now Rio, and then somewhere else, and then maybe much much later Islamabad. Your quality of life should reflect in the environment you choose to fight your battles.
I am done with battles, I want to be able to breathe in nature, enjoy the spectacular skies, and most of all be thankful that such beauty surrounds us.
9. Have you noticed any remarkable talent or project in the creative and design sector coming out of Pakistan?
Actually I have, quite a few…. there was this young colleague who went to Berlin, he worked on in Ogilvy Berlin, his personal illustrations, and observations are very good. There was this colleague I last worked with, she was a co-Creative Manager and now she is ACD – her work is excellent – she can run an agency all by herself! I mean I can go on and on, so many colleagues, so many juniors, such good potential….If start naming names, I don’t know how to stop. There was a fresh grad, who was handling huge campaigns on his own, and was hired by a rival company on thrice his hen salary, and he is very very sound in his design aesthetics, and the art director who groomed him… I mean, there is a lot of talent waiting to be groomed. Given the right circumstances, these people will go far and do great projects!
10. In terms of art design and creativity, what are Pakistan’s biggest opportunities and threats?
Pakistan is an emotionally driven country, logic, rationality and natural order of law is far behind in priorities. It is also the best time to use that raw energy coming out of those emotions and channeling them to positive platforms.
What may and may not have been a big change by the people finally voicing opinions shows the source of inspiration. Shows how much there is to be said….it may be a small majority, right or wrong – at least a certain percentage has started to express what they feel.
In my opinion everyone should start expressing, their anger, their hopes – but on platforms that enable productivity and positivity.
Anger may give birth to very powerful and emotional designs, hope may pen new manifestoes for a change desired. These can lead to NGOS, workshops, Social Projects, amazing creative breakthroughs with social functions.
You feel your poor are uninformed, inform them with art and design- involve their children in free workshops….show them by demonstrating what change is. Change their perspectives through creative power given to us.
Bringing the west in your home does not advance the progress, neither does copying the west – improvising YES. Use their standards, invent your own methods.
I want to learn and experience here how ‘original’ and amazing campaigns are made here. Here they have their own standards. Here new campaigns take birth. They see a problem in their own country – they use the opportunity to utilize local knowledge to solve it, understanding their own resources and means to fix it.
Here too is one of the worst corrupt governments, the current strikes and riots across the country are speaking volumes about it. But that never compromised on the work output of this country. Buried in politics, and drug wars and tarnished international image, they still have managed to come out shinning in their creative sector.
Pakistan and Brasil are the same in many respects from their identical FAVELA = Androon shehr cultures, to their drug peddling, poverty and corrupt government and an elitist society estranged from reality.
But it is not an acceptable excuse here to just churn out mediocre days’ work to earn the salary.
We can blame no one but ourselves on comprising to be a part of mediocre output in the creativity sector. Right now we have all the right ingredients, but we always settle for the ‘easy way’ out.
There is still time.