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Exhibition: Piecing together the imperfect picture

Updated February 12, 2017


The latest show at the Canvas Gallery in Karachi titled “Paper Picture Perfect” bought together three eminent artists and their collage-based works. While Afshar Malik and Anwar Saeed have worked in mixed media layering paper, paint, images and drawings to create surrealistic worlds, Mahbub Shah’s bright imagery from various sports matches employ a visual style slightly removed from his fellow exhibiting artists. There seems to be little in common apart from the technique of paper collage.

The irony of the title of the show is not lost on the viewer as we start our experience with the skewed visuals of Shah. These crucial moments frozen at often pivotal points in cricket or football matches are intervened upon by the artist through countless circles cut out and twisted around. This lends the work a visual appearance akin to cubism, while at the same time obscuring the figures and rendering their actions indiscernible. The resulting conf­usion seems to mirror the lack of importance placed by those from the art world on such subject matter, both as a casual interest and as a topic worth debating through their individual art practices.

The other two artists employ visuals that are dramatically different from Shah’s while bearing keen resemblance to each other in terms of visual tonalities and imagery. Malik’s work seems to be experimenting with various different techniques, including watercolour, acrylic paint, collage and ink, which are in line with his artistic style of remaining untethered by medium or discipline. The juxtaposition of a barrage of contrasting images complemented by a striking interplay of at once bold and dark hues makes for an exciting visual experience, with each piece seeming to tell a number of different stories at once. This is most apparent in the large central piece ‘On the Wall Between’ which seems to hold the exhibit together.

Paper Picture Perfect” brings together three prolific artists and their latest series of experimentations with collage and mixed media

As with some of Malik’s previous works, the imagery seems to be spontaneous, although there is a recurrence of portraiture, pop-cultural, political and art history references, traditional elements, foliage and animals, all tied together through diffuse, murky paint, shapes and textures created through the use of collage. Particularly interesting is the treatment of the borders as part of the work, covered with a cacophony of said elements running a parameter around the central image. ‘Which One of You is Me’ is another great example, a mostly monochromatic piece which reads as an introspection riddled with questions of identity.

After Spectacle XIII, Mehbub Shah
After Spectacle XIII, Mehbub Shah

Saeed’s work seems to have some of the same visual devices, such as the presence of animals and iconic images from art history. On the other hand, his work is about human relationships and experiences, dreams, lust, forbidden love and sexuality. Its metaphorical language often disguises taboo relationships,which, coupled with his modernist sensibilities, takes on a surrealist nature. Colour seems at once muted and vibrant, the masculine form is stylised yet rooted in realism, the themes of homosexuality are communicated through subtext, and even the celebration of the male form seems restrained, evidenced by the presence of the overt, seemingly intentional bulge in most of the works.

The work thus seems to be talking about repressed desires, unfulfilled love and unrealised dreams and longings, both directly and subliminally. Some good examples of this are “Cronos Clipping Cupid’s Wings”, “Love is a Carnivorous Plant,” “Body and the Things that Live in it” and “A Dream about Travelling with a Familiar Stranger”, among others. The work manages to be sexual without being overtly sexualised, and it is refreshing to see an artist talk about love and desire without much of a female presence.

Body and the Things that Live in it, Anwar Saeed
Body and the Things that Live in it, Anwar Saeed

The show is an interesting interplay of diverse themes executed through collage, and the association of such prolific artists helps lend certain legitimacy to the medium itself, while also providing art lovers with the opportunity to view and analyse their works in relation to one another. While Shah distorts reality and disorients the viewer with his collages, Saeed’s imagery brings to light a taboo subject and Malik’s fantastical visual associations challenge the extents of our imagination. The title of the exhibit then reads as a bit whimsical as paper they might all be playing with, but picture perfect none of them had ever intended to be.

“Paper Picture Perfect” was shown at the Canvas Gallery, Karachi, from January 31 till February 9, 2017

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, February 12th, 2017