An exhibition of artworks titled “Altars / Condolence Theatre” is showing at the Canvas Art Gallery till Dec. 22 - File Photo/ Dawn.com

KARACHI: Few shows have really tackled the role of religion in our society, but an exhibition of artworks titled “Altars” by Komail Aijazuddin and “Condolence theatre” by Muhammad Ali which opened Tuesday does just that.

Showing at the Canvas Art Gallery in Clifton, the exhibit takes a look at the Shia tradition of mourning from the perspectives of two different artists.

Komail Aijazuddin, a graduate from NYU, described his set of 12 pieces as a manifestation of his search for faith.

He said he wanted to take concepts from the history of Shia tradition and look at them, not from the lens of western religion, but from the depiction of religion in western art.

"There are a lot of parallels between Christianity and the Shia tradition," he said. "And I wanted to highlight them without being too in-your-face about it.”

An example of this can be found in paintings such as "The Entombment" or "The First Majlis." In the same vein is Mohammad Ali, a graduate from the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture, who takes a similar route in his five pieces, but said that his work was rooted in his identity.

He said that as a Muslim he was fascinated by the cultural, visual and theatrical components within the religion.

"I wanted to bring out the performance aspect of nature of a religious tradition," he said. "If you go to a majlis, you see how people dress in a certain way and the rituals involved which, for him, translates as a form of ritualistic theatre."

Another painting by Aijazuddin titled, “The Wedding” showed the vibrant and colorful celebration of a wedding, with the use of bright hues of yellow and orange.

He said the piece was meant to show how weddings in Islam are essentially the only rituals that are celebrated in a festive way.

Aijazuddin, who work’s mainly in oil and acrylics, incorporated the use of wooden panels for this exhibition, which he cut into the shape of altars.

Meanwhile, Ali said he used iconic western art as a base for creating new art, which is vividly apparent in his take on the iconic painting by Grant Wood called the “American Gothic”.

In this painting called “The Vanguard of Faith,” Ali replaces the farmer couple portrayed in Grant’s painting and replaces them with a mourning couple dressed in black.

In “The Table Spread” he depicts a mourning family at a dinner table with a child bleeding from his head.

His work involved a lot of portraits because he feels that it is the "last best form of painting.”

Pakistan has a contemporary art scene that progressed slowly in the past 20 years, but shows like these are evident of the changing attitudes of artists searching for an identity which is both cultural and religious as well as explores themes that our poets have used for centuries. And it is an art form flourishing in the country.

The exhibition is showing till December 22, daily from 11am to 8pm (except Sunday) at the Canvas Gallery.

Salman Haqqi is a reporter for Dawn.com


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