Art Gallery Curator Farrah Mahmoud, Ahmad and Australian High Commissioner to Pakistan Margaret Adamson at an art exhibition in Islamabad. Image Credit: Sana Jamal/Gulf News

Islamabad: At first glance the artworks may look like detailed pen drawings but artist Tusif Ahmad has in fact carefully created captivating Islamic art by cutting into a single piece of paper.

With his hand-cut masterpieces, self-taught artist Ahmad is illustrating the story of the life of the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) — one that is close to the hearts of millions of people around the world.

Ahmad is also reviving the once revered art of paper cutting in the Islamic world one artwork at a time.

The 19 detailed, intricately carved artworks, which Ahmad created over a period of five years, are currently on display in Islamabad at the COMSATS Art Gallery (CAG).

“The Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) is an inspiration for more than a billion people in the world. I have created these art pieces representing the major events of his life to pay my tributes to him,” Ahmad told Gulf News.

“Through my artwork I aim to represent how different religions truly teach the same basic principles, of love, compassion and empathy, and how we must all embody those amazing qualities in life.”

His exhibition, titled Illustrations on the life of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), features art made from several layers of coloured paper, which give each work a three-dimensional look.

“All of my pieces are completely hand cut, so all are unique and one of a kind,” he said.

“The process of cutting a paper and turning [it] into a beautiful design is my soul. The intricacy of the design and fragility of it when cut is mesmerising,” said Ahmad with a gleam in his eyes.

A single piece can take between two and three months to complete.

“Paper-cutting is different from other art forms as you cannot afford to make a single mistake. One wrong cut and you have to start all over again,” Ahmad explained.

Research is key

The 47-year-old Pakistan-born Australian and father of three says he only took up paper cutting 10 years ago while working on artwork alongside his children.

Having discovered his passion for it, the Perth-based artist spent two years researching the art form.

“I started researching the craft and realised that it was a popular art in China and some parts of the world. However, I couldn’t see anyone specialising in Islamic paper art, so I decided to try it,” he explained about his decision to take up the craft.

This realisation led to the creation of stunning Islamic paper art. With patience, attention to detail and a deft hand, Ahmad has produced unique art pieces and also introduced unique Islamic art to the world, especially Australia.

“With exhibitions in Western Australia, where most people don’t know about Islam or Islamic stories, I aim to exhibit the positive side of Islam.”

Talking about the fantastic feedback he received in Perth, Australia, Ahmad urged people “to embrace our differences [to] learn about one another the only way to ensure we create [a] better society for our children”.

Illustrations on the life of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was inaugurated by Australian High Commissioner to Pakistan Margaret Adamson.

Praising Ahmad’s artworks, Adamson said: “Pakistani artists like Ahmad are a great example of the diverse people-to-people connections between the two countries — engaging Australians and Pakistanis with Islamic art and cultural heritage”.

Australia is home to more than 60,000 Pakistanis and 600,000 Muslims.

“Islamic art in Australia represents a unique heritage, with the relics of the Macassan Traders of Northern Australia and the Afghan Cameleers of Central Australia serving as the most celebrated of Australian Islamic legacies,” Adamson said, adding: “Pakistan is famous in Australia and around the world for its miniatures tradition and vibrant pop-art like truck art.”

Patience needed

Talking to Gulf News, COMSATS Art Gallery Curator Farrah Mahmoud said Ahmad’s work is quite technical and requires a lot of patience.

“Tusif Ahmad uses [a] special paper-cutting technique to create his artwork which needs a lot of patience and strong skill for transformation of the image on paper.

“The intricate detailing cannot be done with any shortcut and needs [the] complete concentration of the artist.”

The art of paper cutting dates back to the sixth century, when it was popular in China, explained Tanvir Jafri, Director of China Study Centre at COMSATS Institute of Information Technology.