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Lasting impressions

February 14, 2016

KARACHI: For artists, ignorance is not bliss. It is pain. Why? Because it is those who suffer from negligence at the hands of society that invariably move the artist community to tell their stories. One cogent example of it is an exhibition of insightful artworks by Huma Mulji titled The country of last things which is under way at the Koel Art Gallery.

The show mainly focuses, quite poignantly at that, on the lives of bakers, sanitary workers and batmen (who serve army officers). The sociological aspect of their jobs eclipses the economic side of their being, for the artist intends to travel into their past by capturing their present. In doing so, she creates a series of images which run like an art-house cinema movie that you would want to watch over and over, with a heavy heart.

The first section on display is a conversation with a baker named Karamatullah whose health is deteriorating and the authorities who hold sway in his area want his business to be shut down. The bakery has a history, but the artist doesn’t tell that through her work. She captures the workplace the way she saw it, though with a sharp sense of loss.

From the Study of Equilibrium series From the Study of Equilibrium series

In that series, there is an interesting shot of rusks, an essential bakery item. But the one image that leaves a profound impression on the mind of the viewer is of a motorcycle used by the baker. The watery patch in front of the motorbike is a kind of storytelling that can only prove effective through the visual medium, and not by virtue of composing intelligent text.

The show moves forward with another section, ‘A study of equilibrium’ (archival inkjets prints): a picture of a man — a sanitary worker — on a bicycle with bamboo poles on his shoulder. The balancing act that the artist is referring to has nothing to do with the skill of the rider; rather, it is to do with the sense of balance that he needs to have living in a society that doesn’t look at him favourably.

The exhibition will run until Feb 22.

Published in Dawn, February 14th, 2016