As we stroll through the concrete corridors of Cell Studios, Hackney Wick, we’re drawn to the open doors of Zarina Khan’s studio
Inside, Zarina is fully engrossed in her latest artwork. With a warm smile, she welcomes us into her shared creative haven, a space adorned with her graduate art collection and ongoing projects.
Meet Zarina Khan, a remarkably talented creative who shares her studio with four fellow artists. Their bond was forged during their studies at the Royal College of Art (RCA). Originally from Peshawar, Pakistan, Zarina holds a BA in traditional miniature painting from the National College of Arts, Lahore. Currently, she divides her time between London and Lahore, Pakistan, and in 2022, she earned a coveted spot as a finalist for the prestigious Chadwell Award. We ask Zarina about her journey as an artist post-graduation.
Give us an introduction about yourself.
Zarina Khan (ZK): My name is Zarina Khan. I’m an artist. I graduated last year, 2022, from the Royal College of Arts (RCA) with an MA in painting. My practice is painting with paper and figuratively, it’s collage. There’s a drawing element to it. It’s textured, the paintings are very ambiguous. The figures themselves are also ambiguous and I try to play with both drawing and painting as a medium. I’m working on a piece for a show right now, with Hypha Studio and Creative Land Trust, it’s called MELT. It’s in October. And I’m really excited for it.
Could you walk us through your experience, starting from your graduation, when you realised you needed a space and how important it has been to your work?
ZK: So at the time of graduation, my friends and colleagues from the studios at the RCA were looking for affordable spaces to continue our practice. We were told to register with certain studios, they had very long waiting lists that could take two to three years. And we did that. None of us have heard back from any of the applications to date, and it has been a whole year. So that felt like a dead end. A few of my friends and I were thinking of going back to my home country, because we just could not find a space. So I let go of the idea, as it felt impossible!
Some of my friends here had struggled to find affordable spaces in London, often venturing far from the city center to find anything, really. I then heard back from Cell Studios, and what’s amazing about this is that I was able to get a space with them and I am sharing it with a few artist friends. From that point it was a very smooth transition from my home country to getting a space here. The people managing the building are very helpful and very nice. I’d say I’m pretty lucky to get this space, it’s so affordable. It’s pretty much in central London, and the area around it is amazing. It’s very creative. It’s got a very good vibe. The space itself is easy to maintain, it’s easy to clean. It’s got good lighting, it just works really well as a studio space, especially for painters. I mean, we’re all painters here.
So it took a year to get here, but I’m so glad and so lucky to have found this space.
Photographer Sylvie Belbouab
So, Cell Studio are the studio providers that manage the Creative Land Trust building. I am so glad that you and your friends were able to find a studio that works for you. What is it really like living in London as an artist – what are some of the challenges?
ZK: There were many stories of some of my friends and people I knew that were kicked out of buildings and studios because developers decided to casually convert them into office spaces. So you can see that there’s no regard for artists in particular. It feels like the goals and ambitions of an artist are overlooked and we are not seen as people that also work and contribute to the city. Because of this, it’s very common for artists to be kicked out of their studio without notice. I think that’s the norm over here. I think it’s rare to find affordable and safe spaces for artists.
How do you find the art scene in London?
ZK: There’s so much going on all the time. I think that’s what I really love about this place, you can really find your niche in nooks and crannies and people and spaces that suit you. I think there’s a little bit for everyone over here. And of course, there are so many opportunities that you can get involved in so much to see and be part of. It’s a supportive community over here for an artist. So I think that works very well.
You mentioned that you will be showing new work at the MELT exhibition as part of Frieze. Tell us more about this and other work that we should look out for.
ZK: I saw an email from Camilla from Hypha Studios and replied to it, as they mentioned that they wanted to bring together artists from London and create a space to discuss affordability for artists. I felt it was very important, especially at a time like this, to be part of an exhibition that touches on current topics. I’m excited for it! I have a few pieces. One of the pieces is on canvas. I won’t show it to you right now, but you will see it if you come to the opening.
This interview series is in collaboration with Mount Anvil, partners of our third affordable artists studios at Friary Park, Acton, due to launch in 2026. Read more about the portfolio here.
MELT is an exhibition in collaboration with Hypha Studio. View Zarina’s work alongside the astonishing work of 32 other artists supported by both Hypha Studio and Creative Land Trust.
Where: Unit 3. Euston Tower. 286 Euston Road London NW1 3DP
When: Private view Wednesday 11th October 6 – 9pm RSVP here
Frieze West End Night Thursday 12th October 6 – 8pm RSVP here
*with a conversation about making new space for culture in cities*
OPEN: Monday 9th – 22nd October 2023
12 – 6pm daily