Arshi Irshad Ahmadzai graduated with a Bachelors of Fine Arts (2011) from Aligarh Muslim University and later pursued a Masters in Fine Arts from Jamia Millia Islamia (2013). Working with a range of mediums including painting, printmaking and embroidery on textiles, Ahmadzai’s artistic practice is centered around women and issues concerning them, be it their sexuality or their space in both their domestic and their community. Her knowledge of Urdu, Persian and Arabic allows her to understand the nuances of language, which find their way into her work. Her works are mostly autobiographical and stem from her personal experiences of looking at marginalized communities around her. She is the recipient of the INLAKS Fine Art Award in 2019, which culminated with a two-month residency and a solo presentation at 1ShanthiRoad, Bangalore (2019). She has participated in ‘Out of your shadow’, a group show of six women artists from the Indian sub-continent at Gallery Espace, New Delhi (2019-20) as well exhibited at The India Art Fair (2019 & 2020) and the Delhi Contemporary Art Week (2019).
Lihaaf is the Urdu word for quilt. Being of Afghani descent, Arshi is keenly interested in the functioning of women in the household economy and more specifically, the agency of the Muslim woman. This project finds its premise in the practice of young Muslim brides embroidering quilts and pillowcases as part of their wedding trousseau. Arshi has very clear memories of pillowcases embroidered by her mother which featured patterns and a romantic Persian couplet. The designing of the Lihaaf, is a very gendered occupation. Reserved as a task solely for women of the household, it reduces women to a domestic creature residing indoors. The project looks to bring together several women, and encourage them to engage in an activity where they exchange stories from their personal lives and eventually express them creatively – as drawings, photographs, poetry, embroidery etc. These individual artworks will be collected and quilted together along with Arshi's own drawings. With a focus on housewives as participants, the project looks at agency and questions gender normative roles.