Conversations of displacement

Published February 1, 2015
Sabz Bagh 2, haashia. — Photos by Fahim Siddiqi / White Star
Sabz Bagh 2, haashia. — Photos by Fahim Siddiqi / White Star

Miniaturist Sum­aira Tazeen brings to Kara­chi a much awa­ited exhibition since her move to Toronto some four years ago. Tazeen’s work, which is spread over two galleries and the entrance of the spacious VM Art Gallery, Karachi, pushes the viewer to engage in the relationship of object and sound in the context of miniature art. The work in this exhibition, titled “Sabz Bagh” disrupts the conventional with a personal narrative that seeks the ‘object-ness’ of drawing and it also merits a conversation on the structural base of form as it draws and relates to its surroundings.

The many worlds that reside within the two-dimensional depiction of beauty and ornamentation in the traditional miniature are reconfigured. Firstly, the reality of the artist’s history which has shaped her narrative; secondly, the relationship of the artist in the larger context of ‘neo-miniature’, by which she is invariably going to be viewed. Thirdly, to gauge the influences on the artist’s work after her departure to Canada; what is the aesthetics that emerges? How has the work been viewed outside Pakistan and what does she brings to the show in Karachi? Questions asked are sometimes a more plausible entry into a work than answers sought.

The most convincing aspect of the work is its scale and an assertion to push the ‘prescribed’ parameters of margins / divisions. In ‘Sabz Bagh 2, haashia’ the traditional border is represented by a flat floral pattern in gold leaf on the walls of the main gallery.


Sumaira Tazeen’s art consolidates the narrative of the migrants into personal stories


Shahnshah II. — Photos by Fahim Siddiqi / White Star
Shahnshah II. — Photos by Fahim Siddiqi / White Star

The artist says that she plays with ambiguity, leaving the viewer to find the meaning in the meandering pattern that surrounds the space. What is inside or outside the artist’s representation, even turf, these are the uncertainties that seem to define the engagement. Contained within this border of the gallery walls is a narrative of conversations and footage of parts of the city of Toronto recorded by the artist, and played in iPad devices fitted in suitcases. This is a layered intervention, where the artist is a participant, subject as well as creator of the ‘object’. The assemblage of travel cases bought from a Karachi market bear a stereotypical, perhaps an intentional dated and worn look. Objects of identification of the migrant experience, there is an element of déjà vu for each person who has travelled to settle in North America.

The second installation, ‘Sabz Bagh 3’ consolidates the narrative of the migrant into a personal story of nostalgia, dream and fantasy. The suitcases on angular pedestals inside a circular frame are like a 3D drawing. The bare white walls of the gallery mirror the bareness of the white butterfly cut outs, and the divisions and shadows of the walls converse with the graphite of the butterfly form. The minimal approach, in which colour is incidental and a move away from the façade of gold, will no doubt confuse or even aggravate the viewer. An artist, however, must explore directions that do not necessarily cater to mere market demands, but enriches her art with experimentation, provocation and doubt.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, February 1st, 2015

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