KARACHI: The one complaint that we often hear about Pakistani artists is that they paint the picture of a tragic event (for example the Dhaka Fall) as an afterthought, or in Wordsworth’s words, as emotions recollected in tranquillity.
Yet not all quality art is based on compassion and considerateness, for the simple reason that artists do not usually wear their heart on their sleeve. They either choose euphemistic ways without compromising on the innate aesthetic value of creation or opt for the direct, in-your-face method. There is no immediacy to their work.
It is in this context that artist Shakil Saigol must be commended because an exhibition of the latest body of his work titled ‘Almia Ye Hai Ke Main Zinda Hun’, which opens on Tuesday at the Canvas Art Gallery, is premised on the floods that wreaked havoc on some parts of Pakistan in the past couple of years.
It goes without saying that Shakil Saigol has put up a sensitive show. The special aspect of the exhibition is not only the obvious sympathy towards those who were affected by the floods but also the depiction of the event and its psychological fallout.
The first untitled exhibit (acrylic and oil on canvas) in that regard, though it does not set the tone for the exhibition, is a poignant reminder of how the flood victims had felt, might have felt and perhaps are still feeling the impact of the floods. The teardrop trickling down the face of the character assumes greater significance than the person.
‘A Boy’s Best Friend’ (acrylic and oil on canvas) is a standout image mainly because of the young child staring up confusedly into the air. The spectral, skeletal figures sticking out of the water on either side of the wooden pathway add the horrific element of the disaster to the scene. However, it is the look on the boy’s face that says it all — tragic, lost and mystified.
It is not all doom and gloom. The one enduring picture is of an exhibit titled ‘Hope 1’ (water colour and gouache on arches paper). An old man carrying a young boy on his back exudes optimism, albeit in an imperceptible manner. The face of the old man is archetypical which makes the image all the more engaging.
In terms of the use of symbolism the piece called ‘Survival 3’ (acrylic and oil on canvas) needs to be mentioned. The theme of evolution, even with a ghostly figure among those who have apparently survived, is intelligent artistry apart from being sensitive.
The exhibition will be open till Nov 15.