Art beat: Art and objects

Published January 3, 2016
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In the titular essay of his book Air Guitar, Dave Hickey discusses the morality of traditional art criticism by the cognoscenti in a complex, ephemeral, commodity-dominated era. Imran Hunzai’s solo exhibition “An Unromantic Present” at the Sanat Initiative, Karachi, evokes the same ethos.

Featuring drawing, painting, collage and sculpture, it is rare to find a body of work as multifaceted in concept as it is in aesthetics that is still successful in eliciting a sinuous yet consolidated interpretation. Curator Aziz Sohail and gallery director Abid Merchant spent a year-and-a-half working on this project, striving to portray Hunzai’s work in the most effective manner. The resulting gallery show and accompanying essay-cum-catalogue-publication take the viewer on a journey through time and generational paradigm shifts, entertaining paradoxical notions of natural and artificial, under the lens of heightened contemporary consumerism.

The artist investigates nuances of the volatile relationship between mankind and commodities by often using banal objects as his canvas. His use of common articles transforms the conformist, parochial quality of gallery art, making it more accessible and relatable to the general public. Sculptures of busts made from steel wool and collages made from stickers and candy wrappers feature subjects with shamelessly blatant outward gazes, demanding that the viewer, every viewer, regardless of their expertise, join in the discourse. The construction of a face from coarse, tactile steel wool has tragic connotations but powerful resonance. The layering of mass produced media to create a face in the collage pieces assume a steely aesthetic discipline that is most poignant because it uses the metaphor of the child. Taken from Hunzai’s own relationship with his children, these pieces encompass the shifting roles between father and child, the wise and the innocent, the producer and the consumer, and ultimately, nature and artifice. His work reinforces Hickey’s suggestion that artistic debate is in constant flux because of the dynamic time in which art is created, and the unique, sentient viewer who responds to it.


Imran Hunzai takes the viewer on a journey through time, highlighting the paradox between the natural and the artificial, under the lens of consumerism


Conflation of industrialised, mass-produced biscuit and cigarette packages with Hunzai’s meticulously hand-made graphite sketches, prove the inextricable link between people and things. These works suggest addiction and prove the object’s dominance over him. However, his use of them as recycled canvas defeats their very nature: to thrive on market demand and inevitable, subsequent waste. What was meant to be discarded has been reincarnated.

The most memorable piece in the collection is a 52cm x 304cm piece that depicts an idealised natural landscape, unscathed by insatiable man’s careless repercussions. Strategically placed to stand alone, the wooden relief reads as perfectly harmonious because of its isolation. The tacit nostalgia that emanates from it immediately evolves into a fear of depredation. The irony that the relief is a result of Hunzai unapologetically hacking at a large slab of wood permeates every aspect of the romantic atmosphere.

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Looking at art, we learn about ourselves. Discussing art, we learn about one another. Through “An Unromantic Present” Imran Hunzai uses personal experience to create an insightful vernacular and universal social commentary.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, January 3rd, 2016

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