On Tuesday, Ayesha Shaikh, a 2019 Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture graduate, accused leading designer Ali Xeeshan of plagiarism. She claimed that the ace designer’s March 2022 showcase titled ‘Exquisite Mistake’ was a rip off of the sculptures she made for her graduate thesis show back in 2019. Her collection was later displayed at Koel Gallery as part of the Collective Cohesion exhibit in 2019. While the resemblance is uncanny, Ali Xeeshan has denied all allegations levelled against him and demanded an apology.
It all started when Ayesha took to social media with a series of collages pitting her work against Ali’s to support her claim. “I don’t know if I should be infuriated or proud about my artwork being plagiarised by fashion designer, Ali Xeeshan,” she wrote on Instagram. “I thought it to be mere coincidence at first, but the messages [highlighting the plagiarism] kept coming in, from viewers of my art shows as well, which made me realise that the resemblance was uncanny! In not one, but several of his artworks he had displayed at his show!”
She further added, “We don’t deserve this! It is pathetic to see such recognised talent, representing our country, to be downright plagiarising works of upcoming artists! This is absolutely unacceptable behaviour.”
When The Express Tribune reached out to Ali for a comment, he denied all allegations, saying that his ideas, concepts and muse behind his artwork predates Ayesha’s work and are inherently different from her theme of tackling body image. “I saw her artwork three days ago for the first time, and immediately reached out to her to hear my journey because she clearly misunderstood it. I sent her my personal number as well but she didn’t want to listen.”
According to Ali, he had been reading up and conceptualising a painting specific exhibition on how humans have ruined Mother Earth since 2016. Sculptures became a part of his idea only later when he reconciled with his nanny, a stout and short-heighted woman, from childhood and that inspired the sculpture part of his artworks. “While growing up, Nanni was this chirpy, eccentric, sort of a vibrant person around me. Her energy was contagious at all times. She eventually left when she got married.”
He continued, “Six years ago, she came back to meet us, but this time without all energy. She was lethargic and cruelly worn out by life over the years. I thought Nanni exemplified how circumstances and situations decay you over time just like we, humans, have ruined Mother Earth.”
Nanni photographed by Abdullah Harris. Photo provided by Ali Xeeshan.
Nanni then became his muse, due to her old age, she couldn’t sit for longer periods of time for him to make her sculptures. Hence, his friend and photographer, Abdullah Harris, would photograph Nanni with Ali for him to use to sculpt and paint later. “I have pictorial proofs and timelines to support my claim. “My exhibition was 70% paintings and 30% sculptures. It was always the wider idea of the slower decay—of Earth through bodies.”
Nanni photographed by Abdullah Harris for reference. Photo provided by Ali Xeeshan.
Talking about the resemblance, Ali believes that it’s a “coincidence at best” and that working on big-sized women cannot be a claim to originality. “My idea wasn’t even to show a heavy-bodied person per se, Nanni just happened to be one. Besides, if you do a simple google search, all through the history of art, you will find similar creations inspired by big-sized women. There are only a limited number of ways in which a heavily-volumed woman can sit and lie down. To say that the postures that I had captured were plagiarised is a baseless accusation.”
Ali Xeeshan’s work (left) and Ayesha’s work (right). Photos: Pakistan Art Forum/Instagram and Ayesha Sheikh/Instagram
Given how the issue has blown up, Ali shared that he might consider taking the legal route if things don’t settle now. “She owes me an apology.”