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Between the lines

May 03, 2015


Kakar / Photos by Fahim Siddiqi / White Star
Kakar / Photos by Fahim Siddiqi / White Star

A little distance from Abdullah Shah Ghazi’s Mazar in Clifton and in the midst of mayhem created by the construction of a flyover on 26th Street, a number of art galleries have sprung up in recent times. This is Karachi’s tiny Chelsea where artists, students and art aficionados conveniently hop from one gallery to another. Two-dimensional imagery from latest shows predominantly includes figures and landscapes — both rural and urban. With quick succession of shows in the major galleries, few artists have brought a completely unique experience for the viewers.

In the current body of work by Ayaz Jokhio titled “Ideas in Black and White” exhibited at the Koel Gallery, Karachi, landscapes are dominant. In an earlier note for the artist I had written, “Born in Mehrabpur, Sindh, Ayaz Jokhio’s work draws inspiration from children and their innate ability to visually express themselves. His charcoal drawings on paper are in black and white so that viewers, with childlike curiosity, can imagine the colours they would like to see in the visual.”

The artist draws inside shapes sketched by his eight-year-old son — cloud and raindrops, pot, snake, umbrella and a car. Majority of the imagery is rural — people wading through floodwaters with their life’s belongings, drought like situation, view through a moving car and a serene sunset view of a fishermen’s boat sailing in the river. One tends to question the connection between the drawn outlines and the imagery.

There are a number of ideas that Jokhio works with but leaves it to the viewers to fill the gaps rather than articulating his concerns. Evidently the response to the outlines is rather simplistic or childlike. A snake is like a rope and one can be mistaken for the other, the pot holds the river in its belly, and the landscape is blurred when seen from inside a moving car.

Ayaz Jokhio’s work draws inspiration from children and their innate ability to visually express themselves

The text ‘Borders exist only for the poor’ is encapsulated inside the map of Sindh. The cloud, rain and umbrella become a means to recall droughts as well as monsoon rains in Sindh and flooding as its consequence. Beyond this the visuals could be read more politically, e.g. flooding and drought, regular features in the province, is interconnected that bring suffering for the economically deprived but miraculously leave the lands of the wealthy undamaged. There could be other interpretations of all of these works.

Matko / Photos by Fahim Siddiqi / White Star
Matko / Photos by Fahim Siddiqi / White Star

In an installation, outline of 40 maps of different countries are cut out in wood, painted and arranged in a simple grid. At first the work looks like an enlarged military camouflage print in grey tones. On closer inspection, a landscape emerges from the installation. The cut-outs are like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. The work is inspired by satellite images of the world, one large landscape without borders. Jokhio has used maps in a number of his previous works as well.

The artist is critical of institutionalisation and commodification of art, indirectly raising questions about his own work hung as objects for sale in the gallery space. In context of a discussion on high art, Louis Menand (2009) rightly pointed out “serious art, too, is produced and consumed in a marketplace”.

For Jokhio, art is connected to life e.g. the interaction between him and his son and their responses to each other’s drawings. In an earlier work, the artist asked the participants to draw maps of Pakistan from imagination resulting in varied iterations. The essence of art thus lies in the process of creating and the ideas that one engages with.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, May 3rd, 2015

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