With the recent onslaught of new media, installation and performance works brought forth by the Karachi Biennale and the general shift of global art trends, the Pakistani art world seems torn between following new trajectories and hailing old traditions. Our definitions and perceptions of art have been challenged for decades, but the debates still linger on as the boundaries of art become broader. But if the entire purpose of broadening these definitions was to empower more and more creative minds with the tools of expression that best suit them, why do traditional mediums continue to be dismissed in the modern world?
Five Sides of a Square, curated by Quddus Mirza, features five artists who explore their respective concerns in the mediums of drawing, painting and printmaking, not only to reinstate their relevance in the current artistic milieu, but also to iterate the irrelevance of a mode of expression in light of the expression, or meaning, itself. If art is only as good as the meaning it holds, as asserted by the famous urinal by Duchamp in the ’60s, then surely any artform will remain relevant as long as it is meaningful in the current context.
Some of the more intriguing works in this show are by Sana Saeed, whose flawless depictions and realistic treatment of light and shadows within the folds of cloth are a rare sight today. Her oil and charcoal works provide a sense of bodily presence without its actual appearance, focusing on the traces it leaves in the environment it inhabits. The work seeks to bring our attention to the fragility and transience of life through something as inconsequential and overlooked as dirt marks, interrupted dust, or, in this case, folds of a cloth. These act almost as metaphors for memory, as “collectors of time” or “visual records of people who were once present” as the artist puts it, yet the realisation of their own impermanence rings a sad note in the viewer’s mind.
Quddus Mirza brings together five artists who bring relevance to traditional mediums by using painting and printmaking to voice their concerns
Kiran Waseem’s acrylic paintings offer another striking visual which is at once familiar yet rare to find in recent times. Her focus is on the making of memory through the act of travelling where each experience is laid on top of the other to create a blur, something which she mimics in her process of layering paint to create her hazy images. The quiet, ghostly essence of each work, with the smooth, dark, rich hues accented with streetlights and red streaks of taillights give the sense of fleeting moments. The works have a certain quality which is unexplainably reminiscent of Edward Hopper’s ‘Nighthawk’, with the works existing in their own universe enclosed by the opaque darkness.
Amna Suheyl’s prints are leaden with a heavy narrative, speaking of identity and displacement and the yearning for a homeland that resides only in memory emerging from the trauma of her mother’s migration from Dhaka during the 1971 war. While her work is defined by loss, previously of a homeland and more recently of her mother; she delves into its complexities and the transitory nature of human emotion. The dark depictions of faceless figures in ‘Over the Stone Plinth…of an Earlier Structure (diptych)’ successfully bring these ideas to life. ‘You and I are of One Blood and Soil’ speaks of the relationship between generations that are tied to one another despite differences in opinions, experiences, mindset and direction. The work is afforded a certain visual depth through the burnished shades and textures the medium of printmaking brings.
In the past, artists sought subversion through the employment of newer means of expression, redefining what art is, yet in the process more classical artforms became archaic and old fashioned, looked upon with derogation. As a result, in recent times a move back to the traditional mediums becomes the act of defiance and subversion instead. Only when the full range of modes of expressions become available for artists, without the fear of labels of irrelevance, will art move beyond categories of medium and become art in the purest sense.
“Five Sides of a Square” was on display at the Canvas Gallery from November 28 till December 7, 2017.
Published in Dawn, EOS, January 7th, 2018