The second week of December saw the opening of two very similar yet exceedingly distinct shows by two artists working with geometry and patterns. The more colourfully vibrant of the two, Jamil Baloch’s display at the Sanat Gallery in Karachi titled “Beyond”, touches upon globally relevant issues of cultural misrepresentation, power struggles and the suffering of the common man articulated through homage to his Baloch heritage.
Jamil Baloch hails from Nushki, Balochistan. His origins are a source of endless inspiration for his artworks. The current body of work is no different in this regard. However, there is a departure from representational imagery in favour of a more formal concern alongside the usual socio-political dialogue of his previous practice. This work thus has a more modern and abstract appeal, making it more universally relevant and widely applicable.
The-larger-than-life geometrical designs are inspired from the weave and embroidery patterns from his hometown. It reads as a reflection of identity exploring its layered presence in a cultural context. The endless patterns, while derived from cultural motifs such as the ‘Pashk’ embroidery worn by Baloch women, can also be seen as an apt representation of culture itself. Much like every tradition, each pattern is dependent on the repetition of a simple act, ritualised and unquestioned till it becomes an individual entity.
Jamil Baloch addresses misrepresentation of culture, power struggles and exploitation
Certain imperfections in these patterns then become reflections of flaws in these societal constructs. The gradations in shades and hues of certain pieces such as ‘Chaos II’, ‘Extremities II’, and ‘Self Similarities VII’ remind us of the intrinsic complexities of any culture. On the other hand, the gradual fade into darkness could imply the slow and deliberate corruption of a cultural identity and a region, both from inside and through outside power struggles.
However, it is the large-scale sculptural works that are most intriguing in this show. Again, the sculptural pieces have taken on a more minimalised presence and seem to celebrate form and medium. Large pieces of seemingly raw wood have been blackened to opaque uniformity, split in half lengthwise and sliced up to reveal colourful intricate patterns within. These present a perfect metaphor for the misrepresentation of culture, where a cursory exposure and selective explorations lead to limited and flawed impressions of people.
While the top layer dulls every detail, the deeper layers expose a side less seen. This is not to say the unseen reality is necessarily good, but that a dichotomy exists and there is danger on the surface. Again this universal issue is related by Baloch to his hometown, using the rough wooden surface to reflect the roughness of its landscape and its people, which both hide vast treasures underneath despite the crude perceptions of the world.
Such conversations also bring out the inevitable issue of exploitation in the hunger for profits. The work reminds us of established structures of power which — in turn — oppress certain cultures, their crafts and natural resources, while keeping profits for themselves. These people are — repeatedly — demonised and falsely represented to the world, so those in power can hide their agendas and shift the blame.
It is amazing to observe such a traditional language seen through a contemporary articulation. The abstractions serve to broaden the narrative, making it more open in its interpretations. The work is no longer just socio-political or personal, or global or specific, formal or conceptual — but all at the same time and beyond.
“Beyond” was displayed at the Sanat Gallery from December 13, till December 24, 2016.
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, January 15th, 2017