There is so much in the way we conduct ourselves in society, which we take for granted, that it becomes impossible to believe almost all of it is learnt. Through years of social interactions we make certain associations and condition ourselves based on rewards and punishments to the extent that most of our reactions are subconscious, instantaneous and automatic. These are the manners we then expect of others, based on the situation, so that society runs like a well-oiled machine.
Rabia Farooqui’s latest body of work displayed at the Sanat Gallery in her show Clap, Clap, I Approve subverts this idea and instead seeks to talk about contradictions. Her semi-present characters seem to be engaged in odd behaviours not expected in the specific situations that they find themselves in, creating a sense of unease in the viewer.
At the same time a disembodied hand attempts to stop or control this unexpected conduct, reflecting the invisible hand of society that creates blockades in our minds in order to mould our actions to its desires. The work uses an interesting language to convey the intolerance in this world to outliers, rebels and unconventionality. Most of us are all too familiar with the pressures that force us to suppress certain thoughts and behaviours in order to be accepted in our culture.
Rabia Farooqui’s latest body of work uses a language to convey intolerance towards would-be rebels and unconventionality
This idea is most evident in pieces such as ‘A Tournament of Mujras’ where a man seems to be undressing to another man’s guitar tune, while a hand from beyond the frame tries to put a stop to his actions. In ‘It’s a Click Away’ and ‘Catfight’ a struggle is underway but one of the men involved seems to be rolling over in surrender. Again a hand either pushes a button or points a remote control, seemingly trying to “control” their actions.
The way in which Farooqui portrays the human body adds multiple layers of meaning to her artworks. She claims to only reveal what is necessary to get her point across, thus omitting the body entirely in most pieces so that the emphasis remains on the gestures and actions conveyed through hands and feet. What this does, however, is that it fuses the human presence into the background, so that the patterns overpower it, much like our truest innermost thoughts, beliefs, ideas and emotions which are suppressed by societal expectations. Consequently, we are reduced to a collection of actions which becomes the sole gauge of our worth in society.
The endless repetitions of the patterns that seem to serve as backdrops to each work in a way seem to reflect the social order. There are certain rules being followed, a sense of predictability and control that most of our daily lives depend on. One step out of place and the order collapses. It is then fitting that the pattern does not just remain in the background but partially overtakes the bodies, rendering them invisible.
While the work brings to light the tendencies of society to shun anything out of the ordinary, one cannot help but realise most of the barriers and roadblocks are in our minds.
However, the pattern is not just a passive element that represents control, but in a way helps bring unconventional behaviours into the folds of acceptability. Oddities are normalised through repetition, and the patterns in a way not only signify the daily life codes we follow, but also wrap these bizarre activities in a system of normalcy. Thus, through the omnipresence of the patterns, the contradictions and irregularities are turned into the norm. This is evidenced by the way the bodies are wrapped by the patterns, tuning down the absurdity of the situation and making it ever so subtle.
While the work brings to light the tendencies of society to shun anything out of the ordinary, one cannot help but realise that most of the barriers and roadblocks are in our minds. Our brains are attuned to the rhythms of society’s expectations, and there is a fear of the consequences of living an unconventional life that paralyses us into playing by the rules. Thus, the mysterious hand could just be our own self attempting to save us from the unease that the scene creates. This in turn encourages us to question this blind following of a predefined pattern and gives us the power to change the rules we live by.
“Clap Clap, I Approve” was on display at the Sanat Gallery in Karachi from July 25 till August 3, 2017
Published in Dawn, EOS, August 6th, 2017