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Art and artists across borders

September 13, 2014

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Two of the exhibits on display at the Koel Art Gallery.—White Star
Two of the exhibits on display at the Koel Art Gallery.—White Star

KARACHI: September 11 may be considered a very symbolic day for an exhibition to open that attempts to understand the blurred lines between order and disorder. This was the underlying theme of the much anticipated travelling exhibition ‘Semblance of Order’, which opened at the Koel Gallery on Thursday.

An international residency that has led the participating artists to travel to different parts of the world, with the intent to exhibit, share and absorb various culturalinfluences.

The project is the result of an international artists’ residency programme in partnership with Parramatta Artists Studio, Australia, and Cicada Press, that envisions to promote dialogue between the art and artists of Pakistan and Australia, and ‘replicating, spreading, and mutating ... cultural evolution.’ The show combines semblance and play in a creative printmaking studio where the artists have given way to their shared experiences. The entire oeuvre of the artists thematically come together in a gradual oscillation between ordered disorder and controlled order that can be felt as a collective whole at the exhibit. A shared, yet distinct sense of identity is transmitted through an array of etchings and silkscreen prints.

The exhibit begins with the work of artist, educator and curator Ben Rak. Rak has partaken in many solo exhibitions in both Australia, where he is currently based, as well as in international galleries. The title of his series is “Perceive-Conceive” which displays his roots as an artist belonging to the Diaspora. An acrylic silkscreen is used to convey “global narratives, identities and connections”. From a hula girl dancing, an Arab sheikh as well as a Japanese traditional kokeshi, the cross-cultural themes are expressed as bobble heads. The image is juxtaposed with bar codes that according to Rak, is to reiterate how “in a consumer culture we become stereotypes of what once could be considered ‘authentic’ identities.” The playful tone of Rak’s exhibit, with a seriousness still intact, gives way to the monochrome Drawing Appendages series of Adeel-uz-Zafar.

Zafar shows baby animal toys wrapped in gauze in a delightfully disturbing exhibit that may appear to be superficial but is anything but. The toys seem to break out into arguments at times, resorting to even attacking and wounding the other in the frame. This is in a bid to highlight “social, religious, political and even aesthetic paradoxes” between the East and the West. Having participated in various international residencies, Zafar has first hand knowledge of the differences and similarities between the two. And he articulates this experience in the fuzzy animals who are at times in a state of mutual peace with themselves as well as the other, while at other times in conflict.

Michael Kempson was by far the boldest of the lot with his etching that employs the printmaking technique of aquatint.

Titled ‘Presents with Presence’ the life-size etching of a stuffed toy, accompanied by the other smaller installation titled ‘Friends and Acquaintances’, his work is a commentary on the geopolitical relationship between neighbouring countries. He questions the possibility of relationships between countries on mutual respect and open dialogue rather than blatant self-interest.

An ‘itinerant life and diasporic identity’ was the underlying theme of Abdullah M. I. Syed’s exhibit who wishes to “square the circle”. With a range of colours employed in geometric circles, Syed’s work is a darker take on the cosmic nature of life. He aims to square the circle through a process of discovery and elaborate how we all are “inextricably enmeshed in its centre.” The circle in his etchings can have multiple interpretations; it can represent the universe, the earth, the macrocosm outside or the microcosm within a person. These multiple interpretations are furthered with the use of dark tones within the geometrical representations. However it was Roohi S. Ahmed’s exhibit that managed to make a daring statement without the use of much raw material. Far from being an amateur representation, Ahmed’s use of understated and unintelligible scrawls on silkscreen managed to convey many “unsaid thoughts and feelings.” Her works are encrypted invitations and one must “dip into their own cache of signs and symbols to decode them”. She refers to the printmaking process, exploring temporal and spatial boundaries and creating new meanings. Her ‘Seemingly Quiet I’ and “Seemingly Quiet II” framed in book form, give a new dimension to the idiom, ‘a stitch in time saves nine’. Whether this motto can be used on a more global level, or merely on an individualistic one, depends on the viewer. She allows the viewer to make this decision for himself. Pushing the conceptual and technical limits of printmaking, ‘Semblance of Order’ is open for viewing till Sept 21 after which it will travel to Aicon gallery in New York.

Published in Dawn, September 13th, 2014