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When invited to view the work of the ‘Graffiti artist’ Sanki King, aka Abdullah Ahmed Khan, at the Sanat Gallery, Karachi, recently, one expected to view an exhibition of the school of colourful street painting one discovers in the city from time to time. Instead, one discovered a most beautiful collection of works with the linear skill one finds in calligraphy. As the artist explained, graffiti writing is an art; an artist’s ‘Tag’ is stylised according to the individual’s personal style; also known as ‘Hand-style’.

Moving from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia to Karachi as a child, Sanki grew up with three languages, Arabic, Urdu and English. “In this series I have pushed the boundaries of my Tagging skills through these languages, I have shown how different thoughts, feelings, etc, would appear if you could see them as words,” he explains.

Sanki King is a self-taught artist whose talent emerged at an early age. After the loss of his mother at the age of nine, his father would buy him coloured pencils and colouring books so that the boy could express his feelings. In school, during art classes, he was the only student allowed to paint according to his wishes, while the class got on with copying.


Sanki King’s art speaks with vivacious colours and rough scribbles that convey messages of peace and hope


The artist’s work in this show consisted of interlinked strokes of paint creating layers that appear three-dimensional.
When one mentioned the reference to calligraphy, Sanki answered that the style is known as ‘Calligraffiti’. A diptych titled ‘Twin flames’ worked with mixed media on canvas had linear movement in subtle colouration with two shapes separated by the distance between the canvases. The artist’s inspiration was the common belief that somewhere, there is a perfect ‘one’ for every person — but they seldom find each other.

‘Awakening’ was another exciting artwork composed of a circular composition with yellow figuration and linear strokes of orange shapes against a black background. As one gazed at the work, the circle appeared to be moving. This was explained as the movement brought about by certain colours.

A stunning portrait, titled ‘Gaze’, worked in strokes of varied colouration captured one’s interest and imagination. This portrait, Sanki explained, was the outcome of his study of five different girls, and he explained that ‘Graffiti’ is an art movement with a language of its own. He spoke of reputed artists such as Crash, Daze and Lady Pink — whose work was shown for the first time at the Brooklyn Museum, New York, in 2006. In 2009, 150 Graffiti artists exhibited 300 works at the Grande Palace, Paris, as the French art world appreciated the work shown.

Along with the icons of the movement, Sanki King’s work is featured in a book by Nicholas Ganz titled Street Messages published in 2015. In fact, it was Ganz who titled Sanki’s show, You Should Know Him by Now, in an article Ganz wrote for the artist’s catalogue.

The artist is a member of two leading Graffiti associations in the US which one can join by invitation only. He is also well-known in custom painting and fashion circles, painting sneakers and clothing. One eventually left the gallery with Sanki preparing to create a graffiti painting on the street wall of the gallery which had been painted black in preparation. No doubt it will be a landmark in Karachi.

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