Earlier this year, in March, designer Ali Xeeshan led an art exhibition titled “Exquisite Mistake,” which reportedly sold out before it was even put on display. The designer’s typically eccentric aesthetic was evident in the oil on canvas and sculptures inspired by a heavyset, middle-aged woman who, according to Xeeshan, had once been his nanny.
Fast-forward to this week when Ayesha Shaikh, a 2019 graduate of the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture, uploaded a scathing post to her Instagram, stating that Ali was replicating the sculptures that made up her thesis collection. The post contains images from Xeeshan’s exhibition and Shaikh’s own work and the resemblance is uncanny.
“WE DON’T DESERVE THIS! It is pathetic to see such recognized talent, representing our country, outright plagiarism from emerging artists!” she wrote in a lengthy post accusing Xeeshan of copying her work.
However, according to Xeeshan, he had already conceived the concept for his exhibition in 2017. ‘Exquisite Mistake’ is inspired by a curvy, short woman who was his nanny when he was growing up. “’Nani’ was very fun and cheerful back then,” remembers Xeeshan. “Then she got married and stopped working. She came back a few years ago and she looked old and tired. She was now a single mother, raising her two daughters. Around the same time, I had read how people are ruining Mother Earth and I felt that Nani was similarly cruelly exhausted by life. The analogy inspired me to develop the concept for this art exhibition.”
He continues: “I photographed her in different positions so that I could paint and sculpt her. Some images are confidential so I can’t make them public, but I worked with photographer Abdullah Harris. I have timelines that confirm that I’ve been working on these artworks for years. There are some images that I can release and they show very clearly the source of my inspiration.”
“Throughout art history, you’ll find similar creations inspired by great women. There are only a limited number of ways in which a high-volume woman can sit and lie. To say that the attitudes I captured were plagiarized is an unfounded accusation.”
Xeeshan says he contacted her when he saw Shaikh’s post. “I told her I was willing to swear on my one-year-old son’s life that this was the first time I saw her at work,” he said. “I sent her my phone number and asked her to contact me, but she never did. She owes me an apology.”
Shaikh, on the other hand, decided not to approach Xeeshan. “Of course he would justify me and tell me his side of the story,” she says, “but anyway, the images of my work and his exhibition are so similar. I already indicated that in my Instagram post. There are works of art that have been inspired by great women throughout history, but as artists we are taught to take inspiration but never to make an exact photocopy.”
“What really triggered me and pushed me to post was when people started asking me if I had made the art for Ali Xeeshan. I decided it was time to speak up. I never thought that a single post on my Instagram profile would be so widely noticed!”