October 08, 2017


Head of a Hunzai, Irfan Hassan
Head of a Hunzai, Irfan Hassan

It is indeed an age of ‘selfies,’ text messages and sharing of ourselves through images transported through cyber space. Technology has given us the control to present our best looking selves to the world, and we tend to cater to preconceived notions of what is attractive or impressive. Relationships often seem to depend more on this imagery, rather than realities, and this dichotomy of the real and the perceived is an ongoing one. Ugly-Pretty is an art show that attempts to explore and also unravel “pre-formed notions of beauty” to reveal the underlying insecurities and anxieties they represent.

Curated by Aziz Sohail at Lahore’s Taseer Gallery, Ugly-Pretty brings together a group of talented young artists, including Irfan Hassan, Inaam Zafar, Amna Rahman, Abdullah Qureshi and Sara Khan. Focusing on the human body, the artists have attempted a collaborative discourse through sketching and painting in mediums of their choice. The start off point was a small diary which was in the possession of each artist for a period of 10 days. They recorded their preliminary sketches and even writings, in an attempt to create an emotive and aesthetic camaraderie that they felt would help create an individualistic and yet cohesive narrative. The final outcome was a set of paintings by each artist, in a variety of mediums and styles, though all were seeking to “traverse the discourse between the binary spectrum of pretty and ugly.”

Hassan’s almost life-size face portraits are mesmerising paintings in opaque watercolour on paper. He is a miniature artist whose super-realistic renditions of the human form have become his hallmark. In this exhibition, ‘Head of a Hunzai’ (I and II) and ‘Head of a Mehsud’ are made with painstaking precision of detail that surpasses photographic reality. In this way he seems to bring forth a reality that is different from the doctored ‘selfies’ and other pictures that are shared by individuals in an attempt to present their best looking selves to others.

A painterly discourse delves into the anxieties born out of a culture of self-projection and consumerism

Zafar presents a series of 12 small watercolour paintings, each focusing on a body part that appears to be afflicted with an injury. The paintings are fluid and low-key, quick and spontaneous. An almost voyeuristic focus on an injured body makes the viewer construct a narrative that is deeply disconcerting.

He, Amna Rahman
He, Amna Rahman

Rehman’s four oil paintings on canvas appear to be self-portraits. While one work is an upfront portrait of the face, with all its rough spots apparent, the others zoom into other areas to express a given moment in time. Titled ‘Emotional Liberation,’ these works are again realistic and candid in their approach.

The small set of nine watercolours by Khan represents a different aesthetic, wherein a more symbolic rendition of the face is visible. The emphasis is on conveying moods, rather than the physicality of facial features. The colours are expressionistic and add to the enigmatic aura of the work.

Last but not least, Qureshi’s paintings are a quick take on portraiture. The male body in various postures is rendered in sweeping swathes of pink hues of watercolour paint, displaying an anomalous combination of shyness and candid revelation.

Untitled, Inaam Zafar
Untitled, Inaam Zafar

The curator’s emphasis on “an erotic aesthetic” that allows the artworks “to have a hypnotic power, which conflicts with the power of the viewer as voyeur” does indeed come forth in this exhibition. It questions norms of both beauty and propriety, and elucidates the complex concerns of a generation besot by the anxieties linked to self-projection and desires born out of a consumerist culture.

The exhibition “Ugly-Pretty” was held at The Taseer Gallery Lahore, from September 14 till September 28, 2017

Published in Dawn, EOS, October 8th, 2017