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Exhibition: Coding the city

August 21, 2016
Neighboring City II
Neighboring City II

To provide an insight to the diverse lives of a growing urban society, an exhibition of 20 paintings and drawings by Anum Jamal, titled ‘Annotations: Revisited’, was held recently at the Koel Gallery, Karachi.

An Edgar Allen Poe and S.H. Manto fan, Jamal documents her experiences with the city’s common folk. It is from these recorded narratives and stories that she creates her QR (Quick Response) codes. These digitally-encrypted patterns look like aerial views of the architecture of a dense city and become the foundation of her paintings. Wherein her subjects dwell.

“My depictions look like maps seen from a height, which are annotated by adding and omitting different aspects of the codes,” she elaborates, “I use pencil and miniature painting techniques in unconventional ways that are somewhat technically inclined.”


Anum Jamal uses her previous work to germinate into the next


With the rapidly-growing population in the city followed by the ‘outburst’ of architectural constructions, the artist feels that producing anything in its entirety would not do the city justice. Therefore, she opts to work in fragments. To create a ‘genetic relationship’ with successive works, Jamal uses her previous work in order to germinate the next.

A fine example of Jamal’s sequential processing of evolving codes are the twin drawings ‘Neighboring City I’ and ‘Neighboring City II’, graphite and color pencil on digital drawing. Anchored within the three customary points of the QR Code, the rectangular elements of the grid emulate townhouses and condominiums. The artist programmed digitized code into bitmap objects exquisitely. It is also evident that the second version tends to simplify the complex nature of gridded routes and the congestion of buildings.

Another interesting deviation from the QR Code is Jamal’s euphemistically named painting, ‘Concrete Garden I’, gouache on digital drawing, which divides the space into vertical segments. As opposed to a concrete ‘jungle’, the artist has expressed a deep sense of belonging to the city’s way of life, and awe for the ever-changing milieu. Amidst the gray monolithic strips of architecture, there is one structure that has been adorned with a red flowers wound around in a helix, hinting at a haven amidst the unrest.

Jamal’s drawing ‘Implosion 2016’ graphite on paper, takes off in a tangent to her linear thematic work. A bold venture that manifests the artist’s urge to explore newer forms without reluctance. The drawing illustrates an organic flow of geometrical shapes; perhaps a city grid warped like a fabric. She explains, “After being overwhelmed with different fragments of memories, I felt like disassociating with the emotional nature of paintings, which I catered to here. I was also looking at the nostalgia of the previous locations that I had lived in. I felt it like an imploding event instead of an exploding one, simply because of the overwhelming effect of community living.”

An alumnus of the Indus Valley School, Karachi, Jamal got a Master’s degree in Contemporary Art Practices from the Coventry School of Art and Design, UK. With a mature conceptual approach, which emanates from her passion for writing, she bears a unique vision that sets her apart from her contemporaries.

‘Annotations: Revisited’ is on exhibition at the Koel Gallery, Karachi from August 11th to 27th

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, August 21st, 2016