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Exhibition: For the love of painting

May 17, 2015
Regal chowk - 2015, Qadir Jhatial
Regal chowk - 2015, Qadir Jhatial

The inscription on the invite for a recent show at Karachi’s Koel Gallery reads: ‘I found I could say something with colours and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way —things I had no words for’ (Georgia O’Keafe). The paintings of the two participating artists on show, Uzma Sultan and Qadir Jhatial connect to the realm of a long tradition of painting, which despite equally strong traditions of innovation, experiment and subversion through new media, still sustains the creativity of the artist and the viewer. Fragmented, mutilated, rejected, painting reappears, sustained by the instinct to make, and to put the unspoken into form.

In the current show, it appears strong due to the sheer indulgence of the artists, who have allowed paint to articulate their sense of place and context. The outside is internalised and accepted with a subtle grace and wholehearted embrace, and it is as if one of the most significant conversations is with the medium of paint itself.

For Uzma Sultan, and for Qadir Jhatial, there may be more than one context, one place and one time. This is perhaps the binding element of these two very different artistic approaches. And yet, as they come together in a shared space, unexpected and immediate connections do take place. And that is, let’s put it, the magic of painting or any creative medium that continues to draw us, and sustains the energy of the heart and mind.


Qadir Jhatial’s burst of colour forms and Uzma Sultan’s fascination with street iconography are an apt beginning for summer art shows


In this show, it appears that the painted imagery of Sultan and particularly, the painted form of Jhatial speak towards the conventional as subject and approach. Well within the frame, it is interesting that this may well be the subversion within each, for both artists ask the viewer to stay within the window of the picture. In the introduction to the works for this show, Art critic Gemma Sharpe addresses Sultan’s way of ‘not only about painting pictures, but about making paintings’, and art critic Aasim Akthar writes about Jhatial’s ‘empirical directness and observation from life’.

Ajrak in Victorian Room, Uzma Sultan
Ajrak in Victorian Room, Uzma Sultan

The new ‘jet set’ local artist, however, is looking outside the frame, under the frame or away from it, in search for new centres, connecting to new, more glamorous terrains and lure of ‘socio-political’ commentary. However, the work by Sultan and Jhatial seems a shift away from the slickness of current artistic practices. Instead, the work invites an entry into spaces within the imagination of the artists, where we cannot underestimate the obvious and hidden nuances, humour, social commentary, and the critique on art and culture that each holds, indirectly, as a result of an ‘other’ engagement. The subtexts within are diverse.

Sultan’s narrative is a meeting point of earlier concerns with three main trajectories: one of the painted rooms, and lived spaces, collected and photographed from the artist’s travels or from magazines. The other, her obsessive love for ‘desi’ food spreads, colourful sherbet bottles, stacks of food packages in grocery stores, and a flamboyance of Pakistani street colour and culture; re-iniverting ‘kitsch’, kosher or not. Sultan allows herself also to reinvent the stereotype, to revel in cliché, in the end drawing us closer to the new surfaces of aluminum and printed plastic, part exotic, part mundane.

The painted forms by Jhatial, in their stark colour contrasts of flat colours in enamel become almost like the hottest summer days’ mirage. And therefore, even though conceived and painted around Lahore’s Anarkali Bazaar, Jain Mandir and streets as subject, there is a distancing from the recognisable. In each form and its interconnectedness to its shadow, there are stories of birth, community, joy and celebration, and moments of fantasy. Our association may take us to the work of the late Shahbaz Malik, or to the work of TV Santosh, but then again these works bring us to the tactility of the medium, to the joy of looking at a painting, that escapes words.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, May 17th, 2015

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