Issue 3: Featuring Seher Tareen
Every month, The Mindful Missy platform will feature an inspirational cover story about real life heroes sharing their journeys. Each cover star will be featured without any retouching in an effort to promote body positivity and self-love. By featuring real people who share their struggles and bare their vulnerabilities we hope to start a meaningful discussion and a powerful movement towards a more accepting, inclusive and compassionate community.
“I always loved art. I was always very passionate about art.”
Seher Tareen’s journey to manifesting her dream will speak to anyone who has ever been driven by their passion and found the courage to pursue it fearlessly. When I interview her, we are sitting in the sunny courtyard of COMO, Pakistan’s first museum for contemporary and modern art, the culmination of Seher’s pursuit of that passion.
Known for her artsy fashion label Studio S, Seher has never shied away from experimenting with the new and unfamiliar in her designs. Her couture collections are inspired by art movements, artists and paintings; more recently, she has launched a retail collection called Boss Lady, designed as an alternative to the traditional three-piece lawn staple that dominates the Pakistani fashion market.
Seher first got the idea of opening Pakistan’s first private museum when she was studying for her Master’s at Central Saint Martins in London six years ago. It was a program where students were free to design a thesis project of their own as long as it related to the creative industry. They were encouraged to think outside the box and use their work to cause “interventions” in society and disrupt the social order.
It’s funny that sometimes you don’t even realise that you’re restricted in your thinking in so many ways. A lot of people from Pakistan, especially women, we’ve all grown up in a protected environment (and I appreciate the benefits of that), but when I was there, it was the first time I realised – you have to break out of your comfort zone.
If I wasn’t in that environment, I might not have thought it possible. They made you feel like – pick something and just do it. It doesn’t have to be perfect, you just have to start. Just go for it.
She soon realised that the art museum project was too big for a one-year program, so she decided to start small. At the time, the US drone strikes were making headlines in Pakistan. It occurred to her that there were artists living in these war zones, making art in these difficult, violent surroundings, and she decided she wanted to tell their stories. Their art, stories, and interviews became her final thesis and earned her a Distinction.
It was one of the best experiences of my life and that’s when I decided that my career is going to be in the Arts industry. I was so grateful that my thesis was well received and was so grateful to the artists who shared their stories with me. I’ll never forget them: Sajid Khan, Sajjad Hussain, Suleiman Khilji, Sulaiman Mengal, Shakila Haider. They’ll always have a special place in my heart.
Throughout that year, she got to know other people whose stories were so different from hers, like the Pakistani artists she worked with, and her fellow students from all around the world who had lived all sorts of different lives. It opened her eyes to the larger scheme of things and to the world beyond her experience so far. It also made her realise that with all the differences she was encountering, the common denominator was art.
Art, she feels, is the highest form of communication; whether it is literature, film, visual arts, or vlogs, people can express themselves in ways that they can’t otherwise. In creating the museum, her main aim is to develop a museum-going culture in Pakistan, a culture that appreciates art in all its expressions.
The importance of museum in cities is paramount. The energy that museums create is not tangible but it is so important in a society.
With COMO, Seher wants people to come in and feel that connection with the art work. Art is very subjective, she says, and one person may love what another person doesn’t, but the whole point is to feel something.
Whether you feel anger or whether you feel joy looking at a work of art, the point is, really, to feel.
After she graduated, she knew she wanted to create this museum, but she didn’t have a plan chalked out; it happened more organically, over the course of six years. She worked very hard in putting it all together, and there is no substitute for that, but she says:
I think that when you put an intention out there, I do believe that the universe brings everything together in the best way to make that happen. And I do think that everything you put out there, it adds to it. Nothing goes to waste. Every effort, every step that you take towards that dream adds up. It adds up and then it multiplies. All those art fairs and exhibitions I saw, the people I met, the ones that supported me, all that energy helped manifest it the way it was supposed to be.
There were moments where she felt in over her head, where she felt the weight of the enormous task she had put before herself.
There were moments where I thought to myself, have I bitten off more than I can chew? How do I think I’m going to pull this off? Everyone who has a dream that is bigger than themselves has moments like that, but you just have to power through those moments and keep your mind on the prize and focus on what you want to achieve. It takes a lot of hard work but I think when you’re doing something that’s truly coming from your core, it does feel more effortless in the end.
When the museum finally came together six years after the idea first came to her, she tells me it felt surreal, and what she felt most of all was gratitude. “It wasn’t me,” she says. It was everything she had been through over the years and all the people who supported her that brought it to fruition and made it something greater than the sum of its parts.
People always say the journey is the best part, better than the destination. It’s such a cliché but it’s a cliché for a reason, because it’s very, very true. Those six years that I spent working on this feel like a reward in itself; that experience is invaluable to me and I’m grateful to everyone who helped me on this path. It was the effort of everyone and the belief of everyone in my vision that made it manifest itself.
As Seher sits outside the physical manifestation of her dream, wearing a bright red pantsuit, radiating a cool strength, I ask her how she has changed in the six years that have meant so much to her.
I just think life is made up of a series of highs and lows, and it’s how you deal with the lows and how you ride the highs that defines you. I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t gone through all of that. I am genuinely grateful for everything that has led to this moment.
Interview: Mariam Tareen | Photography and videography: Irfan Younas