Vasl-KKAF Research Grant 2022

March 7 – 16, 2023

Grant winner, Tooba Ashraf

Full Circle Gallery

Tooba Ashraf is the fifth recipient of the Vasl – Khurram Kasim Art Foundation (KKAF) Research Grant, 2022. Born in 1994, Tooba is a visual artist, researcher and aspiring social scientist currently based in Lahore, Pakistan. She was also one of the resident artists for Vasl’s 14th Taaza Tareen residency, ‘And So It Happened’.

The Vasl-KKAF Research Grant of 2022 was comprised of 4 jury members, Khurram Kasim, Saira Danish Ahmed, Sameera Raja and Sophia Balagamwala.


In Dharmic traditions, samsara refers to the concept of rebirth. According to Monier-Williams, samsara derives from the phrase samsr, which means to move in a circuit. In Buddhist ancient writings, samsarana denotes going around through a succession of states; birth; a rebirth of living beings; and the world without impediment. It is a process of transmigration, metempsychosis, a cycle of living in which one repeats lives, from one body to another, a worldly life of constant change, rebirth, growth, decay, and death.[1][2][3] This notion sharply contrasts with the concept of moksha, also known as mukti, nirvana, nibbna, or kaivalya, which refers to liberation from this cycle of aimless wandering.[4]


In effort to celebrate the reincarnation of the divine feminine in its various forms, this project draws inspiration from Samsara. Comprising of 7 artworks and 1 poetry piece, the exhibition is self-portrait which makes use of the concept of reincarnation to symbolically envisage the rebirth of my own self through a selection of feminine symbols from South Asian art and literature with which I identify most emotionally. These works seek to challenge one’s sense of self and femininity as linear concepts. These varied forms are a synthesis of numerous traditions that have been a component of the culture in which I grew up.


In an instant, she has become a deity, and in another, she embodies the burning passion of love everlasting, sometimes she takes the guise of a nymph, at others a parda-nasheen (beneath the veils of chastity); the quintessential shapeshifter she is both revered and reviled by her admirers at once and becoming the focus of admiration and the target of their envy as she becomes a window into the divine. Through this series of artworks, I examine various qualities and traits that have garnered the admiration of so many and how these shared attributes whose reflections I see in myself define me and how I view my womanhood. To honour and give form to the beautiful essence of femininity that is my primary focus, I have utilised a variety of mediums, including painting, embroidery, and poetry.



[1] Monier-Williams, M., 1964. Sanskrit-English dictionary. Рипол Классик.[2] Wendy Doniger, and Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty. Karma and rebirth in classical Indian traditions. Univ of California Press, 1980.

[3] Louis de La Vallée Poussin, The Way to Nirvana. Cambridge University Press, 2012.

[4] Yuvraj Krishan, The Doctrine of Karma: Its Origin and Development in Brāhmaṇical, Buddhist, and Jaina Traditions. Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1997.

About Tooba:

Tooba Ashraf is a visual artist based in Lahore. She completed her BFA from the National College of Arts, Lahore in 2018 specialising in Painting and received a distinction for her efforts, and completed her M.Phil in Cultural Studies from her alma mater.


Her research-based works look at how memories, both personal and communal, influence how people form their social identities. Experimenting with a wide range of media she explores the ways in which gender, history, religion, and politics are all interconnected in forming these identities. Since 2016 Tooba’s work has been displayed and published in galleries and publications across the country. She secured first prize in the painting category in We the People, We the Arts, an art competition organised jointly by the United Nations and Swiss Development Corporation at the Swiss Embassy Islamabad in 2016 and was awarded Highest Commendation for Excellence in the competition’s second iteration, in 2018. Tooba was a resident of Taaza Tareen 14, Vasl Artist Association, Karachi in 2022, and the Tasweer Ghar’s Annual Residency, Tasweer Ghar, Lahore in 2018. Additionally, she has been awarded the Vasl-KKAF Research Grant for 2022–2023 culminating in a solo exhibition in March 2023. In January 2023, she exhibited her work at the Be(coming the Museum), a site-specific intervention organized by MDSVAD, Beaconhouse National University at the Lahore Museum.


Alongside these endeavours, Tooba conducted social science research for the anthology Waba ke Dor Mein (In the Time of Pandemic) a publication by Vasl Artists’ Association, Karachi in 2021. In 2022, her artwork was included in the bilingual anthology Between Quarantine and Quest, published by the Vasl Artists’ Association in Karachi. Tooba’s artwork is housed within the permanent collection of the Ambiance Boutique Art Hotels and other notable art collections within Pakistan.