Hope, feathers and Indian artist

Published October 31, 2015
The untold story.
The untold story.

KARACHI: “I’m not a political artist. Some artists are. I’m not. Extremism in any form, anywhere, is not right. The fact that I’m exhibiting my work in Pakistan is special.”

This is what Indian artist Manisha Gera Baswani said in response to a question about the current wave of extremism in India at the opening of an exhibition of her artworks at the Sanat Gallery on Wednesday. The title of her show is ‘Hope is the thing with feathers’ taken from an Emily Dickinson poem. The fact that the artist disassociates herself from political goings-on and uses ‘hope’ as the central theme of her work indicates she harbours a fair degree of optimism vis-à-vis humanity and nature. Looking at her paintings on display at the gallery lends credence to this observation to a reasonable extent.

Early on in the show the viewer confronts ‘Travelnama’ (tea water, wate­­rcolour and gouache on paper). It is the first clue to Manisha’s world view, not in the geographical sense though. It is something that she feels on a personal level. The cartographic hint of sorts speaks of an individual’s trajectory — physical and psychological.

Let a thousand flowers bloom.
Let a thousand flowers bloom.

The exhibition culminates in ‘The untold story’ (watercolour on paper) which is where the tale of the feathers takes a more understandable form. In the Dickinson poem hope is likened to a bird or a bird-like creature that ‘perches in the soul’. Two very delicate things are juxtaposed here — bird and soul — suggesting hope too is a delicate thing. The feathers that the viewer sees in the painting present a decent variety, most of which conjures a pleasant picture.

However, a few of them, quill-like, evoke the feeling of incompleteness. The artist astutely implies the fragility of hope and hence its preciousness.

It would be unjust not to mention ‘Let a thousand flowers bloom’ (tea water, pencil, watercolour, gouache on paper), a reference to Mao Zedong’s slogan ‘let a hundred flowers blossom’. The flowers, like the feathers, are a stark reminder that it is difficult to find social equilibrium in life. Is that a political statement? Perhaps not. Perhaps it is.

The exhibition will remain open till Nov 10.

Published in Dawn, October 31st, 2015

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