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Remembering an artist par excellence

Updated May 31, 2017

KARACHI: As is the case with all great artists, it is not easy to describe the life and work of the late Mansur Salim (1958-2015). Unlike many modern-day painters, sculptors and conceptualists, he didn’t like to talk much. Perhaps it wouldn’t be right to call him an introvert, but he was not someone who would readily give his emotions away. The same could be said about his poignant paintings. They can’t be pigeonholed in terms of ‘isms’.

Salim’s battle with a dangerous illness in the last years of his life made him go into his shell all the more deep. It’s sad that not a lot of his friends and colleagues went to him to shore up his morale in those days. It is in this context that the Koel Art Gallery should be ackno­w­ledged for putting up an exhibition of his oil-on-canvas artworks in the artist’s memory. The exhibition is titled In Remembrance of Ma­­n­sur Salim, and it’s on until June 8.

Salim’s approach to art had a limitless scope. The confluence of physical and spiritual worlds, the fiction-within-fiction of dreams, the tactile value of shapes etched on walls, doors and minds etc are some of the themes that recur in his untitled paintings. This goes to show how diverse he was when it came to choosing his subjects.

In the ongoing show the selection of the artworks is impressive. It may not give a clear indication of the artist’s wide range, but it is understandable given the fact that it’s a single exhibition. That being said, the first exhibit on display, a stretched-out arm or an arm reaching for an unknown object with a hard surface in the background, entices the viewer to get to the heart of the story. It is difficult, because the story is half-told, perhaps less than that. In Salim’s art, stories never come full circle. He does that intelligently. After all, existence can never be a completely fulfilling experience.

This sense of the incompleteness of stories runs through all of his work, even when he plays with geometric shapes. If he’s made a door (or its illusion) or a reference to planetary movements, he doe­sn’t make them in a way that can allow the viewer to have a story to take back home. He wants to raise the art lovers’ intelligence quotient. (Or is it emotional quotient?)

He constantly emphasises the imperfections of all things visual and imagined. Yes, even the imaginary in Salim’s creative pursuits appear just as unfinished tales as the experiential ones. And that’s the greatness of his art: life and its mysteries presented the way they are … unresolved.

Published in Dawn, May 31st, 2017