At her recent solo show at Karachi’s Koel Gallery, Sabah Husain revisits the bare spaces and grains, the uneven corners of the handmade paper; a very specialised and special connection through her earlier learning and exploration that began more than two decades ago from her training at the Kyoto University of Fine Art and Music. Her journey of form took her into many areas of experimentation with printmaking, photographic methods and collage.
At times, the paper surface receded to allow the artist to express her creative concerns through a layering and overlapping of textures and pictorial space. In the current body of work, titled “Poetics of Memory”, Husain seems to have gone past many journeys, in form and content, and arrived at the most humble grain of paper that she has made with the devotion that is akin to the deep connection that the artist has with his clay pots in Noon Meem Rashid’s ‘Hasan Kuzager’ .
Paper that she has made and printed on bears many marks of time; at one point, it assumes the form of paper boat that eventually becomes the vessel of her ideas, as well as a critique on the nature of time and on her milieu. Layered, treated with processes of printmaking and ink jet, and painted, the texture and uneven surfaces within the paper seem to be the imprint of the many journeys of medium and of connections between the visual and the literary, between image, text and dance.
In an earlier body of work, the paper boat is photographed, as object and subject that meanders into the landscapes of Baghdad titled ‘Dajla ka sahil’ and Ravi. Rashid calls it ‘ the shore of the ocean of (his) my eyes, the edge of centuries submerged, this ocean which is the mirror of (his) myself, this ocean which is the mirror of the disfigured, forming faces of the mirror, that is the ocean of which every single art, ever single worshipper of art is a mirror’. In ‘Hasan Kuzagar No 3’ Husain, the artist locates herself (the artist) as part of a collective spanning centuries, in the same space as Noon Meem Rashid places his protagonist Hasan.
Sabah Husain defies the ‘contemporary’ as she inspires the viewers to move outside the picture into their conscience and the wisdom of a collective history
Husain’s imagery is, at the same time, metaphorically linked to the sadri or traditional waistcoat. Such are the subtle connections to history: through the metaphors of libaas, to the connections of the zaahir to the baatin, the outer and the inner, and the many stories contained, bodies of knowledge and wisdom that reside within, the complexities of histories that rest unaddressed, latent, ‘sang busta’ or turned to stone, and ‘tura khaak’, or a mound of dust, like the abandoned clay pots of Hasan Kuzagar.
In the new work, Husain removes the imagery of the sadri from her landscape and meanders deep into the oceans and depths of suffering and longings of years and years. She identifies with Hasan as he, too, asks if there is anyone who will understand the depth of his despair, and if there is anyone who will be able to retrieve the sargoshian, or the ‘whispers of clay’.
He writes, “A thousand years from now these people, sifting through the shards, how can they know the colour and glaze of my clay and dust? How will they find Hasan the Potter? How will they count the drops of his sweat? How will they obtain the shadow of the manifestation of his art?” (Hasan Kuzagar 4, translation in I Too Have Dreams, Sean Peu, Oxford, 2015)
Husain weaves the narrative of the visual in a journey that engages with the literary on many layers, and connects to the most subtle tone and sensitivity to time and space. She places herself outside the ‘mainstream’ or current discourse of art in Pakistan, and looks away and outside the parameters of what Raza Rumi describes as ‘liberating art from topical obsessions’ (The Friday Times, Jan, 2015). For an artist who defies the ‘contemporary’, she aspires a resistance, as she inspires the viewer to move outside the picture into their conscience, into the wisdom of a collective history.
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, August 30th, 2015