Saturday, March 6, 2021

Alia Bilgrami’ Stormy Tulips

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Mayelinne De Lara
Mayelinne De Lara
DIPLOMAT MAGAZINE “For diplomats, by diplomats” Reaching out the world from the European Union First diplomatic publication based in The Netherlands Founded by members of the diplomatic corps on June 19th, 2013. Diplomat Magazine is inspiring diplomats, civil servants and academics to contribute to a free flow of ideas through an extremely rich diplomatic life, full of exclusive events and cultural exchanges, as well as by exposing profound ideas and political debates in our printed and online editions.

In the picture Alia Bilgrami and the Mayor of Den Haag, Honorable Jan Van Zanen

On 20th January 2021 at 4:00 p.m. a meeting with the Mayor of Den Haag, Honorable Jan Van Zanen took place. The purpose of this auspicious ceremony was to handover a set of paintings that had been pledged to the city of Den Haag and to the Mayor as a gift by Pakistani-Canadian artist, Alia Bilgrami.

The work is a triptych, called Stormy Tulips. The painting is very special to the artist as it narrates the journey or cycle of life and is rendered in gouache in the miniature painting style, a reflection of her South Asian heritage. In the triptych, the two tulips are the protagonists, braving life together, one storm at a time and coming out stronger at the end. Even when one tulip survives the other, life must go on as reflected in the background of the last painting.

Alia Bilgrami’ Stormy Tulips.

Over the summer of 2020, Bilgrami got in touch with the Mayor’s office because she and her spouse had recently become residents of this beautiful city and they were keen to express their gratitude in some shape or form. The artist’s father inspired them with the idea of giving one of her paintings as a gift to their new city. Since Bilgrami is a professional artist who loves painting tulips, this seemed like a very good idea indeed and the rest as they say, is history!

Alia Bilgrami and Mayor van Zanen.

As explained to Mayor Van Zanen during the meeting, she never tires of using tulips as a symbol in various styles, and through a myriad of media. He took a keen interest in learning more about why she and her spouse moved to the Netherlands and said that he always loves to hear why expats choose to move here, admitting that like them, he too is new to Den Haag having only taken office for the past 6 months. After this they spent a little time discussing Bilgrami’s career as a visual artist and curator. She has a background in contemporary miniature painting that she often combines with analogue photography techniques.

The tulip has become a personal symbol in her art that stems from its fascinating history – being cultivated in Turkey and Persia and then finding it’s way to Europe several centuries later. It sometimes reminds the artist of her own multicultural life experience, and those of others like her. It was a symbol of love and used in poetry and paintings in the East but came to represent Capitalism in the West, being the first commodity that led to the creation of the stock exchange when “tulip mania” spread all over Europe.

Bilgrami is interested in this dichotomy, and as fate would have it, like the tulip, has recently found a home in the Netherlands where the tulip is everywhere and studying its rich history is more accessible. Bilgrami’s research is ongoing, working with the notion of displacement, her artwork often expresses a duality – the simultaneous feeling of belonging and of being scattered – that translocation can often bring. 

The Mayor was happy to receive the triptych and Bilgrami felt very honored to have been given a private audience with him. The meeting, which only Mayor van Zanen, Alia Bilgrami and Mr. Kevin Verbaas attended due to Covid-19 restrictions, was a lovely and successful afternoon in which they both took a keen interest in her art practice.

The artist feels content that Stormy Tulips have found a home in the land of tulips and after the meeting was over said “I am honored and happy that the work has found its way to the Mayor’s office walls where I hope they contribute to the positive atmosphere and cheer him up on a daily basis!” Maybe one day the paintings will adorn the walls of a museum in the Netherlands, or at least that is what the artist aspires to.

For more information about the artist go to: or follow her on Instagram:

For recent interviews and projects:
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