Artists are often described as sensitive and perceptive individuals who are constantly absorbing and soaking in everything in their surroundings. This includes their life experiences — i.e. the people they know; the things they have done; the books they have read; the events that they have witnessed. It also extends to the social, political, cultural and economic circumstances of their times. Art is not made in isolation — even the most reclusive of artists cannot help but be influenced by the world around them.
A phenomenon that seems to encourage inspiration has been moments when artists come together to create and compete with each other. The history of art is peppered with these. They impact the development of a new style, thought or method. Take for example, none other than one of the most well-known artists today — Pablo Picasso collaborated and exchanged ideas with his contemporaries. And out of that came great works of art. He and Matisse constantly tried to outdo the other, sharing paintings in process and objects collected from local shops. With his friend Braques, he invented cubism. Without such interactions, would such significant art have been possible?
In Pakistan, there is interaction amongst artists — they do come together to produce art and challenge each other. However, more often than not, the competition seems to be about benefitting oneself and not the other. Artists vie for the attention of curators and places in exhibitions. They push others aside to gain more fame and recognition.
This type of project represents a new style of curating — the one that has collaboration at its heart
However, in the small opportunity organised by Aziz Sohail Projects, we might find the inkling of collaborative efforts in which artists come together to generate works in ways that they might not otherwise. “Dialogue: Abstraction” took place over three weeks at the end of 2014 when artists Abdullah Qureshi and Ali Sultan worked side-by-side in a studio space. The resulting works were displayed at Art Chowk Gallery in Karachi recently.
Both artists painted canvases in an abstract manner. Abdullah Qureshi utilised different materials than he normally employed. Ali Sultan worked on larger canvasses than his typical size. Together they worked, not necessarily with the aim of affecting the outcome of their works, but in a sense of having a discussion with a co-worker.
|Fat old sun, Ali Sultan
During this subtle experiment, curator Aziz Sohail facilitated dialogues amongst himself, Qureshi and Sultan in which he asked questions to elucidate the points of connection between the artists. The text of this discussion accompanied the installation of paintings — bold, textural works that almost seem to be made by one person. The richly coloured images have visible strokes of paint, made to stand out instead of resting quietly on the surface. They speak of moments in their lives, as well as in the life of the nation. In coming together, the two artists benefitted through a dialogue that happened in layers of impasto paint.
This type of project represents a new style of curating — one that has collaboration at its heart. No longer is it about artists working in isolation from the curator who simply displays what comes out of the studio. The latter is involved in the process of making art. All come together in the desire to produce something new, something that might add a different approach to understanding and appreciating art.
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, March 8th, 2015