Iqbal Hussain's Women

Bassam Tariq resides in New York City. He is the co-author of the blog 30 Mosques which celebrated the NYC mosques during the blessed Islamic month of Ramadan


Iqbal Hussain is a controversial painter based in Pakistan. Not controversial in the Western sense - he's no Dash Snow or Andres Serrano - Iqbal showcases a side of Pakistan that many Pakistani's would rather not acknowledge.

I'm no expert on Hussain's work, so I'll quote excerpts from a fine article on All Things Pakistan written by Pervaiz Munir Alvi.

Iqbal's women are not nude or semi-naked or involved in some illicit acts as their profession might suggest. They are mostly some unknown and unremarkable women of modest looks and appearance.
What's unsettling about the women he draws is that they are without a dupatta, a scarf worn to cover the bosom, and are barefoot - a visibility most women of respect would never allow. Though the paintings are haunting, there is a gentleness and beauty in these intimate portraits that can't be denied.

Above: Hussain's take on the Red Mosque siege. At first glance, the women in burqas seem to have a predatory presence, but the hand on the woman in red's shoulder is at ease and their eyes are relaxed, not enraged. Interestinly, the facial expression of the woman in red is one of either despair or hope. The situation painted is intentionally left ambiguous. 

Alvi ends his article with this:

But what troubles us most in Iqbal's women is the fact that they silently poke our conscience and raise questions about the otherwise obvious hypocrisy of our society.They raise the questions that 'respectable' Pakistani society rather not to ask of it self. And that is what makes Iqbal Hussain so 'controversial!'  

(pictures and excerpts via All Things Pakistan)



  1. They are pensive, grief-stricken and reverent – just like all women throughout the world. It’s a concept that the presence or lack of a garment (dupatta, burka or anything else) – has anything to do with a woman’s integrity, spirituality or honor.

  2. I just logged on to BB after being away maybe 36 hours, and I am digging Tariq’s posts: visual and visceral, and a welcome change. Nice stimulation with an edge…thank you!

  3. Some interesting paintings, to me its not the lack of dupatta itself but how its shown, and more striking in the first painting.
    Already you see a trend on Pakistani TV of “higher class” women not wearing the dupatta,, and the first painting to me screams out that divide that is growing in Pakistan between the higher class in losing tradition and religion while employing “lower class” women to do their work who are more conservative in tradition and religion. You see in the 1st picture the woman wearing a burka in the back with a baby bottle which makes you think she is a wet mother/maid.

    The 3rd painting, the woman in the orange gown screams gitmo to me.

  4. @Zuhaib, interesting, also notice the 3rd person in the first painting, perhaps a child looking over the chair… mom may be pre-occupied/disinterested while the child sneaks a glance. Also, the only thing shown of the child is what would be revealed by a burqa.

  5. Still more interesting, in the first painting, the women (holding a wine glass) seems to be sporting a Bindi, that too in crimson, on her forehead. Something that one would normally associate with a married Hindu women. Mother-daughter duo may well have been watching one of those addictive ‘Soap Operas’ from India on their Tv.

  6. Dear sir/madam,
    I am an young artcritic from india,at present working as the research editor of this is a new website on art,ideology and politics. i am very impressed by the paintings of Mr.iqbal Hussain. is ther any probability that i can get an contact no,email of him. wishing to write to him. can some one help me out. thanking you,

  7. i’m an art student from lahore
    i’d like to write a few words on you in my thesis for violence against women.
    if you’re interest please contact me on my id

Comments are closed.