We were supposed to be seven, Veera Rustomji
We were supposed to be seven, Veera Rustomji

Amidst the prevalent lean environment of art exposition across the city, it was a pleasant surprise to see an extraordinary assortment of works by young emerging artists at the Canvas Gallery, Karachi. The youthful fervour of the participating artists grants this exhibition, titled Figuratively Speaking, a certain refreshing characteristic. Viewers found the works of the participating artists, as Heraa Khan, Syed Hussain, Veera Rustomji and Umar Nawaz, invigorating, engrossing and uplifting.

The six delicate works of Khan, executed in gouache and gold leaf on wasli, are based around her observations of the affluent elite who live in luxury. The solitary figure in her paintings depicts a middle-aged lady who is either obsessed with the vanity table, reclining on a bed of roses or ostensibly posing with ornate furniture. The thrust of her compositions is focused on the brazen splendour of the advantaged class. “They are encased in a make-believe bubble of opulence,” says Khan, “blinded by their delusional existence, they remain distant from reality.”

According to the artist, handling of hand-beaten gold leaf (of old Lahore) and pasting it on wasli with gum Arabic followed by burnishing and painting, is a challenging task. The artist, after numerous experiments, has harnessed this exquisite technique of achieving the exact consistency of paint that gives lasting adhesiveness.


The youthful fervour of the participating artists grants this exhibition an inspiring attribute


Inundated with questions arising from his ethnic roots, Hussain a native of Hazara division, frequently finds himself atypical, owing to his build, accent and dialect. Unsolicited attention and odd reactions from strangers while travelling, tends to add to his urge to decipher the bizarre response. The anguish due to disassociation and isolation, eventually made him go through ancestral archives, e.g. old documents and damaged pictures. He says, “Through a study of family record and the resulting inference, I was able to disentangle the riddle of identity, however, I still feel that some pieces of the jigsaw are missing.” His 10 paintings are delicately miniaturised and are rendered in refined pardakht and gudrang, using opaque watercolours on wasli.

Rose garden, Heraa Khan
Rose garden, Heraa Khan

To unlock obscure areas of her past, Rustomji took up a perpetual research project on family archives. Primarily, her visual inspiration comes from vintage photographs of her ancestors which date back over a century. “People in photos do not respond to questions that I have, even if they are related to me,” says the artist. “Visually, however, they do have a sense of history and are archival, and I use my own artistic interpretation of them,” she adds. With random strokes and a palette that amplifies nostalgia, the artist recreates her family history in nine paintings which impacts viewers with an equal responsiveness. Rustomji prefers simplification of forms and achieves an almost realistic outlook with irregular strokes, which validates her expressive acumen.

The single ‘Untitled’ ironwork of Nawaz in white is a vertical column, eight feet high having an 11-inch cross section. The symbolic column is eroded at the top with a crack below, perhaps signifying that corruption begins from the top producing fault-lines in lower tiers. The artist’s message to the masses is to remain steadfast like the defiant column and continue to strive for their rights.

The exhibition was a harmonised repertoire of diverse techniques and styles, rich in figurative expression, and demonstrated the artists’ resolve to put themselves into overdrive — inevitably, which showed.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, June 12th, 2016

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