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Portrait of a country

KARACHI, Aug 28: It is impossible for the common man to remain unaffected by the sociopolitical turmoil in society. When the common man finds it difficult to let his voice heard the artist community gives tongue to his thoughts. But this, more often than not, happens on an imperceptible level which is why artists seldom get credit for holding a mirror up to society.

An exhibition of Sobia Ahmed’s latest body of work titled ‘Is Parcham Ke Saey Taley’, which opened at the Chawkandi Art Gallery on Tuesday, is based on a similar theme. It is a sad, sad commentary on the state of affairs of the country and at the same time a noticeable artistic accomplishment. The artist has put up some really contextually hard-hitting and meaningful artworks on display.

The central idea of the show is given away with the first exhibit ‘Once Upon a Time in the World Map 1’ (gouache on photo etching on wasli paper). The outlines of a well-recognised map in the thick greenness of the frame can be easily detected. Then things change. In a piece called ‘Emaan’ (gouache on wasli paper) the face, feet and hands of the protagonist are missing. ‘Itehad’ (gouache on wasli) has the torso separated from the rest of the body. And ‘Tanzeem’ (gouache on wasli) looks like a cut-out of a big, glum picture. The content is understandable and is largely a result of keen observation, but the intensity that has gone into creating these artworks is palpable.

‘Who Will Lead My Country?’ (gouache on wasli paper and gold colour) enters into worrisome territories whose effect is heightened by ‘New Flag’ (gouache on wasli paper and gold leaf). These paintings cannot be viewed in isolation because the beheading scene that the viewer sees in ‘New Flag’ is linked to the earlier two exhibits. This is contemporary scenario intelligently depicted through a traditional miniature technique.

After that, perhaps as a natural consequence, comparisons are drawn with the peaceful past, though using the language of political economy, in ‘Once Upon a Time in 1947’ and ‘2013 (gouache and photo etching on wasli paper), indicating that the country was never ‘free’ in the true sense of the word. ‘Who Will be Next?’ (gouache on wasli paper) provides the right kind of finishing touch to the exhibition.

Very few exhibitions make the viewer think, and Sobia Ahmed’s does exactly that.

The show will run until Sept 3.

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