Words and Pictures

Transforming and transcending trauma in the work of Qinza Najm.

Qinza Najm is an interdisciplinary artist with a practice rooted in her background as a Psychologist studying interpersonal relationships. In her art practice she seeks to uncover aspects of transformation and trauma in mind and body that remain hidden yet affect all aspects of society. 

Najm’s most recent works respond to our current moment which is so deeply saturated in trauma. In addition to her usual mediums of working on paper and paintings on carpet from initial digital studies, this has further manifested as smaller works on sandbags. The sandbags appeared as a result of a flood in her studio during the Fountainhead Residency in Miami, Florida. Invited to the residency due to a proposal to research how technology informs our personal relationships, such as online dating, the emerging global pandemic pushed her in a different direction while still utilizing familiar motifs like female bodies, eyes, and lines connecting dots. The motif of hands, a new one for Najm, arose during this time relevant to the artist noticing her desire for human touch in opposition to her impulse for personal safety. 

Looking at Najm’s work, all very current, the image and presence of the hand is obvious along with the use of specific but quotidian materials: carpets, canvas, paper, and sandbags. 

A series of drawings uses a stamp-like method of layering, each piece of the drawing partially informing, partially stamping out the next. Figural forms emerge and are obstructed, slap dash lines and blobs stand in for arms and legs.  Viewing this work mid-pandemic, one can’t help but think of bodies and touch and the lack thereof in our current way of life, globally, as we distance from each other. One image shows what seems to be a medical cross in place of a mouth, in another hands and circles hover over what feels like a blurry barcode. Presence and absence of connection comes to mind as well as health care and its administration through contact. The colorful splotches almost seem to censor what I want to see or touch. These swirling pieces appear as a question to the bodies, a challenge to their usefulness, agenda, humanity. 

In the sandbag works there is an aim to dismantle usefulness and challenge safety. The sandbag on its own is a tool of weight, of security. Some are wall mounted, drained of their volume and now a decorated shell. The bag is marked now, by the hands that lifted it? That drained it? These works bring up these questions, as well as those surrounding the relationship between us, our tools and our control in utilizing them or lack thereof. Other sandbag works are propped up on a table, adorned with intuitive mark making and drawing found in Najm’s 2-D works. These are transformed from utilitarian into something else entirely, taking on the shape of an upright pillow – the change to an almost domestic shape makes me think, as I write this of how we have to be creative in our search for comfort right now.

Her carpet works, acrylic paintings on carpet, take a very domestic object that typically lays on the floor. Najm thinks of the metaphor of “sweeping trauma under the rug” and the symbolic way in which carpets cover while being connected to craft, the domestic and the female. There is also the idea of marginalized persons being “walked all over”. Conceptually firm in the direction that these works are presented hung on the wall and never laid flat on the floor the artist ensures that these common transgressions are rendered impossible. 

Origin of Hope, a multi-panelled and multi-colored piece with line drawing, laments the tragic passing of a young 42-year old dear friend through Covid-19 complications.  Showing an elderly patient who did survive at the same, this drawing depicts the outline of a ventilator and medical “hands” providing care. The impulse behind the artwork is the dissonance caused when grieving and suffering is relegated to a screen-based, virtual and intellectual process, such as the funeral for the artist’s friend, and cannot be expressed in person, through community and comforted by human touch.

About the artist: Qinza Najm is a Pakistani-American artist whose interdisciplinary artistic practice explores gendered violence and female subjectivity. Utilizing performance, video, painting, and other mediums, the artist, originally trained as a psychologist, understands herself as a denizen of the world, using artistic means to create empathy and understanding between societies and cultures in order to address the deepest social traumas. Qinza’s website is and her Instagram profile is: @qinza1.

About the writer: Qinza Najm was initially interviewed by Fiona Buchanan ( This piece of writing was developed from that interview by Jennifer Mawby. Mawby is a contemporary artist and sometimes curator and art writer with a focus on projects for artists using accessible language. Jennifer is the co-founder and director of Vantage Art Projects. Her work can be found here: and on Instagram: @jenniferjeanmawby.