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Fresh articulations

August 09, 2015
Past III (2015), Batool Mandvi / Photos by Fahim Siddiqi / White Star
Past III (2015), Batool Mandvi / Photos by Fahim Siddiqi / White Star

In our image saturated digital age a photograph can be shared and multiplied millions of times with just a click of a button. Furthermore, images have become better composed showing our happiest, brightest and fun selves. Technology takes away the uniqueness of an original photograph that captured the imperfections of the moment, deteriorated over time and could not be easily reproduced. It also diminishes the notions of private and personal. Interestingly, many artists all over the world have started to use images that they discover in their family albums, closets and stores to create art and scholarship bringing the private into public domain.

In the exhibition ‘Past, Present and Parallel’ at the Koel Gallery, Karachi, artists Batool Zehra and Batool Mandvi have used old photographs in their work. Beyond the medium, their concerns are very different. Zehra interrogates the idea of transience through partly damaged photographs of her childhood days. In her previous work she used ash as a medium to draw, which dissolved over a period of time as people walked over it. Her work is a process of understanding transient nature of life.

Mandvi, on the other hand, creates fictional narratives from photographs she found in her parents’ home. Since no one knew anything about these old photographs and could neither recognise those photographed, there were no stories attached to them. Mandvi started to imagine the conversations the photographed characters and objects could potentially have with each other. These conversations are printed as text on the photographs.


The artists’ work has advanced from their thesis projects as they carry their aesthetic issues and sensibility into the current body of work


Out of the three other exhibiting artists, Zehra Almas has exhibited a series of photographs that she captured at those streets of the city that are enveloped in darkness and are ripe for criminal activities. She feels that people, out of fear, have stopped illuminating their homes for special occasions, such as weddings, as they used to in the past. In her photographs, Almas digitally fixes fairy lights on street poles and walls in an attempt to light up the place. She reminisces about the ‘city of lights’ and its loss over the years.

Dense city I (2015),Syed Hasan Raza,
Dense city I (2015),Syed Hasan Raza,

Taking the city dialogue further, Syed Hasan Raza has created cityscapes by stacking found wooden rulers. The three dimensional forms are used for drawing and carving. It is an interesting idea that needs to be developed further especially the use of a measuring device to construct three-dimensional forms and its relationship with the surface drawings.

Sarah Hashmi’s family moved to Pakistan from India in ’80s. She grew up listening to stories about India and constant comparisons being made between the two countries. After her grandmother’s death, she searched for people and their families who had migrated from India to Pakistan especially during the partition. Hashmi interviews, listens to their stories and records them. She also collects precious-ordinary objects, which are loaned to her for documentation and exhibition. These everyday objects, which hold memories and stories, are of utmost importance to their owners. She has labelled each object with a succinct description.

In another work, she drew the routes that people took for migrating to the new country. Over the months, the paper has rotted with fungus completely removing traces of their journey – a metaphor for the fading memories and past. Her work is crucial as a project in oral history and simultaneously the collected objects evoke feelings and create understandings that words can barely describe. Projects like this must be taken seriously and supported as the last survivors of the Indo-Pak partition slowly fade away in the mist of history.

The five participating artists of this show graduated from the department of visual studies, Karachi University in 2014. According to the show’s curator Mahreen Zuberi, who previously taught them as well, the artists’ work has advanced from their thesis projects as they carry their aesthetic issues and sensibility into the current body of work.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, August 9th, 2015

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