Preview: Complex and evolving

April 10, 2016


Unititled 5 (2016)
Unititled 5 (2016)

Abdullah Qureshi’s first solo exhibition Untitled at the Canvas Gallery in Karachi, that is to open on April 12 promises to be a landmark moment in the career of the artist thus far.

Having engaged with Qureshi through previous curatorial and dialogical collaborations through his Gallery 39K in Lahore, one can trace the desire of the artist to meld the personal with the artistic during his practice. In this regard, this exhibition is another moment in the trajectory of the artist which locates his increasing comfort and placement in contemporary Pakistani art history where abstraction has been formerly understudied and undervalued.

Pakistan is no stranger to abstraction which has been a part of the canon since the advent of a national art history. In this regard we can trace the early experiments of the likes of Zubeida Agha and later works by modernists such as Shakir Ali, Anwar Jalal Shemza and Zahoor ul Akhlaq.

Abdullah Qureshi’s paintings convey a feeling of achievement, colour and joy

In recent years, it seems that this understudied thread of our history has been increasingly welcomed and understood. While Quddus Mirza was a prominent proponent of this practice in the ’90s we can also see others engaging in this dialogue such as Rakshanda Atwar (Qureshi’s teacher and mentor) whose contribution has been notably undervalued. With the turn of the century, we find artists such as Shireen Kamran, Abdullah Qureshi and Ali Sultan coming into prominence and bringing forth the lineage of their art historical ancestors.

Qureshi’s practice has been complex and evolving — from his early experiments and works during his tenure at the Chelsea College of Art in London through the current moment. In the current exhibition, one can identify elements that emanate from what might be his current artistic phase ie since 2013, a moment when Qureshi, having graduated with a Master’s degree chose to move back to Pakistan. At that time, as showcased in a solo at Alhamra Art Gallery in Lahore and at the VM Gallery in Karachi, and perhaps paralleling the euphoria of homecoming, the works were bold, large and colourful.

A notable shift occurs in 2014 with the ‘Void’ series that was displayed at the Gallery 39K. A dark reflective moment, the works were notable for the presence of a central black hole, surrounded and bordered by a monotone, a period which the artist states reflects ‘a period of being lost and lonely’, the moment of post-euphoria when the artist was grappling with immense personal issues.

Untitled 7 (2016)
Untitled 7 (2016)

In this regard, despite the use of heavy black and other monotone colours, the artist has shaken off this darker period in this exhibition. Now the viewer can see moments of triumph and happiness — an ode to immense possibility — the viewer can sense a feeling of achievement, colour and joy. Shapes and circular strokes still pervade in the work, paralleling not just the void, but also the series Dialogue: Abstraction (on display at ArtChowk in Karachi in 2015); however, rather than the presence of a dominant and energy-sucking black hole, the presence of circles remain like a halo or a haze, less omnipresent and important to the overall aesthetic. That particular geometric form seems to have eclipsed other concerns and moments reflected through a diverse colour palette.

Those familiar with an earlier history of the artist’s work know of the depiction of objects of interiors such as chairs or beds and other forms, and the artist has continued to struggle and evolve with depiction of the inherent being. In the current exhibition, the form is opened and broken — finally, this is an artist who has left his inhibitions and fears behind and is able to articulate artistically with new confidence.

On reflection, the viewer can perhaps find important parallels within the personal and painterly in Qureshi’s practice — and while each view is subjective and located in the viewer’s own experience, there is no denying a sense of maturity in the current exhibition.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, April 10th, 2016