Unlike bold, emphatic shows that impact instantly, the seven-artist exhibition, Personal / Universal, at Hinterland Galerie, Vienna, exudes a quiet, penetrating presence that compels inquiry. Among the participating artists; Rehana Mangi, Rubaba Haider, Aisha Abid and Noor Ali Chagani have been trained in the traditional miniature techniques; while Ali Kazim, Hammadullah Shah Gilani, and Adeel uz Zafar are trained in conventional painting, but all of them now pursue a postmodern expression through a novel use of mix, multi and new media arts. Curated by the celebrated miniature artist Aisha Khalid, Personal / Universal explores subtle transitions that convert subjective experiences into universal truths.
Postmodern art uses recontextualisation as a tool to construct new meanings; the artists in this show, courtesy their traditionalist art grounding, avail the advantage of addressing the present by restructuring the past. Their traditional training is more apparent in their approach, or art-making sensibility, rather than the art itself.
Mimicking the pointillist (pardakht) miniature technique Noor Ali Chagani creates tiny handmade terracotta bricks to construct walls. Symbols of insularity, private enclosures, agents of division and dispute, power structures, crumbling edifices of heritage architecture, or vandalised with hateful graffiti – his walls assume multiple public faces. Chagani is among the few contemporary artists deploying miniature basics in 3D, to demonstrate his unique take as a sculptor in the tradition of miniature art.
The Vienna show explores subtle transitions that convert subjective experiences into universal truths
The delicacy of miniature qalam pointillism translated into fine cross-stitch needle craft is yet another original approach which is further personalised by Rehana Mangi, when she substitutes thread with human hair as a sewing agent. Mangi’s use of hair as metaphor for conflict, loss, and death is associated with recourse sought in art as therapy to overcome a childhood trauma, as well as contradictory notions of locks, curls, and tresses as attractive features, and hair as waste once it is shorn. Recalling childhood memories of embroidered pillow covers and sheets, she creates subversive patterns of flowers and butterflies, on fabric and wasli paper.
The domesticity of threads, needles and fabrics is again overturned as torment and ordeal in Rubaba Haider’s play with fabric. She found her allegory for pain and suffering, while she was nursing her mother after an invasive surgery. How surgical stitches clinch the skin as they heal was an image she replicated in multiple forms on fabric, with clever insertion of needles, darning and patching, and by artful dissection, and threading of its weave. This work transcends her personal trauma and singular vocabulary, to align with universal notions of relationships strained by hurt and injury.
The paradoxes of compressing, condensing, exploding, or breaking loose, philosophising on pain and pleasure, and reprocessing archival material into contemporary forms ,is central to Aisha Abid’s practice. Her series of tablets, Aaj kay Gham kay Naam, created by gluing wasli / paper to a couple of centimeters’ thickness, are inked with imaginary writing, (in homage to the repetitive miniature mark-making, and the wasli’s former use for manuscript illustration), and then partially slashed with a knife to reveal personal diary recordings.
Initially (when he received his BFA in 2002 from the National College of Arts) gaining acclaim for his layered painterly wash technique and haunting figures and portraits Ali Kazim has since moved onto other fragile media. To illustrate that the personal is universal, he plays on the concept of skin being “the boundary between the internal body and external world” through delicate watercolours and installations fabricated with very fine translucent paper, similar to the membrane of the skin. On the translucent paper (acid free tissue), Kazim uses charcoal to draw detailed drawings of forms similar to human intestine.
Adeel uz Zafar known primarily for his technique of scratching and scraping on vinyl to create a gauze filament mesh and then building shock value by muffling toy images with this bandage. Equating the repetitive scratchings with the miniature dot application his audio book installation (containing scraped vinyl surfaces) gives voice / sound to his technique. The scratching sound has a natural rhythm continuously becoming slower or faster like the rhythmic gesture of the miniature pardakth technique, and also like a sermon, or the rote learning of verses. These pluralities of meanings shift his personal expression towards current worldwide debates on extremist ideologies.
The polarity between meticulous rendering (pardakht) and the minimal but aggressively drawn graphite stroke, defines Hammadullah Gillani’s work ethos of spontaneity and deliberation.
The curatorial proposal of this show is linked to each artist’s personal history and their current practice, and viewer effort to investigate the linkages, creates deeper understanding of the premise.
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, April 24th, 2016
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