The Koel Art Gallery, Karachi, preserving its customary stance to expose artworks that gently nudge the audiences to focus on crucial issues, has put together 12 unusual works of two artists: Taqi Shaheen and Aamir Habib under the title, ‘When the land escapes’. The show is a manifestation of bold but consequential expression, in diverse mediums and dimension, which aims at dismantling the inconsistencies of the land. While the exhibition unfolds the saga of sentiment prevalent for national allegiance, it also addresses the conspicuous erosion of values and culture. Whereas the suffix ‘Escapes’ in the literal sense hints at the occasional urge to severe the weakening bonds with the land.
Primarily a film-maker, Shaheen likes to create captivating audiovisual installations and paintings that usually leave the audience awestruck. Shaheen has chosen a path of expression which tends to challenge genus discrimination through visual analysis of the prevalent culture and its setting against the city’s social milieu and cultural skyline. In the wake of the overwhelming onslaught of contemporary miniature, Shaheen promotes the present-day innovative art that takes a tangent to the sombre slow-paced traditional art. However, he also feels that there is a need to inculcate awareness of preservation of the roots of tradition and prevent the erosion of history.
Shaheen’s distinctive artwork is based on unambiguous concepts that stem directly from the mounting pressures of the imposing environment. His lucid perception of how the society inflicts itself as a consequence of frustration and helplessness arising from civil constraints, lack of welfare and denial of rights. The digital paintings portray all probable connotations and interpretations of the word bus, meaning ‘enough’ in Urdu, hinting at the stagnation of art, the declining state of civic amenities and most of all, the spontaneous cold-blooded massacre of the innocent public by terrorists.
In the computer prints on archival and photographic paper, Shaheen has paid tribute to some renowned painters from the past and selected contemporary artists like Naiza Khan and Rashid Rana. Shaheen has composed familiar works of the painters and processed them creatively through a computer, especially with the use of photomosaic plug-ins deploying a customised library of numerous snapshots relevant to the print’s concept.
With the appearance of Georges-Pierre Seurat’s stippling when viewed from a distance, the prints appear realistic. As one approaches closer, the miniscule snapshots of the mosaic start to appear very clearly. The most interesting feature of these prints is the tonal value that is synthesised by combining hundreds of photographs, which at a macro level, emerge as tangible compositions.
Habib believes that the country’s political reluctance needs to be addressed seriously so as to find ways to intervene the narrow vision of the masses. This limited vision prevents the common citizen from challenging the pseudo-democracy, reflecting apathy from all quarters whether civilised or uncivilised; to the extent where the preposterous becomes tolerable.
Although Habib displayed only two sets of sculptures, however, each one of them is quite elaborate and subtly satirical. The installation titled, ‘21-gun salute’ comprised 21 identical sculptures of cannons firing upwards, made from cast iron and aluminium, is extremely impressive for its collective regimental demeanour. At the mouth of each barrel is a plume of frozen smoke exploding in the form of dozens of heads representing large-scale destruction of humanity. Originally, on demand the 21-gun salute by a defeated enemy was meant to indicate that it has expended all its loaded ammunition. However, the artist has used the more recent custom of firing during military and state funerals as a mark of respect.
Habib’s second sculpture, fabricated with gold leaf, fibre glass and acrylic sheet, depicts a large cannon firing horizontally, spewing an extraordinarily large ball of smoke. Once again suspended in mid-air, this huge mass of fire and smoke is embedded with human heads and faces indicating the lethality of the weapons used in war. The cannon placed on a vintage ornamental table made of wood, depicting a civilised and sophisticated launch pad for jingoistic operations.
There has always been a strong relationship between the arts and politics, especially during various periods of civilisation in history. The art assumes political and social outlook when it reacts to the ongoing events and political affairs, sometimes transforming into a reckonable catalyst for reinforcing social and political resolve.