The accepted and the customary are seldom questioned unless they surface as disturbing truths. Zahid Mayo’s “Chup Kahani” paintings shown at the Sanat Gallery, Karachi, explore people, places and social behaviour with the eye of a photo journalist. Giving aesthetic definition to snippets of reality he nudges the viewers to quiz the essence and discover the story behind the picture.
A native of Madrassa Chatha, a small village of Gujranwala, Mayo now lives and works in Lahore. His initial art education began at Naqsh School of Art (NSA) in the historic walled city of Lahore (2005-07) and concluded at the National College of Arts (NCA) (2008 -13). Grappling with the change between the communal atmosphere in his native township “where you know everyone personally, even their animals,” and the alienation and distance among people in an urban metropolis has sharpened his sensitivities. His art, a mix of two diverse curriculums, feeds on the village environment in which he grew up as well as the city atmosphere in which he now resides.
Walking the streets of the inner city enclave (walled city) camera and sketch book in hand he records multiple expressions of street life. A natural empathy for the underprivileged and the marginalised and a probing eye for the aberrant and the irregular have stood him well in the construction of “Chup Kahani”. A series of portraits, ‘Bey Naam’, ‘Khuli Band Ankhaein’, ‘The jokers’ ‘Siah Posh spotlight’, and ‘Young boys’ one often sees in backstreet corners. Illiterate, raggedly clothed, often homeless, orphaned or abandoned they live as scavengers rummaging at garbage dumps, street smart beggars, car window cleaners, cheap balloon sellers, etc.
Zahid Mayo’s paintings jolt the viewers to examine the content and ascertain the story behind the artwork
Mayo’s portrayal is realistic with just the right unschooled face expressions and body language. As a story there is a considerable amount of blare behind this ‘Chup Kahani’, if we chose to examine. This expendable sub population is open to abuse, neglect, exploitation, or, in extreme cases, murder. Pakistan is home to one of the world’s largest street children populations and the numbers have grown with people’s displacement after natural disasters and war on terrorism. Inexcusable state neglect and disgrace aside the situation remains a prominent socio-economic issue in the country.
Unsettling animal slaughter paintings of dismembered bones, flesh and blood which relate to the artist’s “Eid-i-Qurban” series conceals a “Chup Kahani” that crosses the obvious gory details. He equates the gusto of tying down animals, skinning, cutting and disjointing the bones to an indifference to inflicted violence. There are norms to be observed even in licensed killings.
Having witnessed Qurbani mania, botched butcheries and mass sacrificial slaughter in his village and at makeshift abattoirs in towns he feels that we have lost respect for life and have become desensitised to slaughter. His ferocious dogfight (a common village entertainment like, the fight unto death, bloody cockfights) paintings also play on sanctioned violence as a means of thrill and entertainment. The artist’s “Chup Kahani” questions such behaviour. This ease and familiarity with violence inadvertently translates into escalation of aggression the extremes of which we are now experiencing in the form of human massacres and suicide bombings.
Opting for painting as an expressive medium in a technology-driven multimedia saturated art world is a singular choice. It slots Mayo with the plucky few who still believe in the veracity and charm of the hand painted image.
Painting with fluency Mayo’s sweeping strokes and well-modulated brushwork heralds a promising start. He acknowledges Mahmud Hasan Rumi, Principal Naqsh School of Art as his mentor (roohani ustad). With his best yet to come the growth potential visible in his approach is bound to benefit from his grounding at the NSA and further polishing at the NCA.
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, September 25th, 2015