Gender specific, as always, Nahid Raza’s recent exhibition, An Ongoing Journey at the Clifton Art Gallery reveals the artist in a state of reverie, recall and revisit. Initially an abstractionist who transited to figuration, Raza is known primarily for defiant self-referential paintings focusing on the travails of womanhood in a patriarchal society. She emphasised her critical stance through a distinct vocabulary of symbols, crusty or layered textural techniques and the prominent use of vivid or garish colours.
This exhibition is a departure from her usual approach in more ways than one. Here we see the artist in a pensive mood as she paints women lost in a world of their own. Even when they are being coy and demure or bold and brazen they remain strangely preoccupied and distanced from reality. A monochrome palette of white against black heightens the brooding effect. The artistic rendering of the figures and symbols is casual, and colour application is flat, even careless in some works. Viewed in the context of the vigorous robust art Raza has created over the years, her technique and imagery both seem subdued in this collection of paintings.
Nahid Raza’s exhibition is a virtual diary on different aspects of womanhood
Weaving together the discrete materials of her lived experience into her art — as wife, mother, daughter, friend and single parent — Raza has always offered a striking insight into the individual and universal soul of womanhood. Almost all the postures her women have adopted in the current artworks are familiar as they have been painted by her before — but for the diffident attitude. Here we see Raza giving public voice to a mood shift. She is still faithfully exploring the roles women play and the problems peculiar to them but there is a meditative stance in the body language of her protagonists, they appear withdrawn or reveal a preference for solitude.
When an emphatic colourist such as Raza, with a penchant for primary hues like red, blue and yellow, opts for white against black the change is in itself a statement. A picture, in colours, is to be looked at but colours can distract the eye and the mind — black and white forces us to think. Artists choose to use black and white for aesthetic, emotional, and sometimes even for moral reasons. By stripping colour from her paintings Raza has attempted to intensify the reflective demeanour of her subjects. This prompts viewer inquiry into the nature of the hidden truths. Every painting can unfold a story or can be read from the inside out if one cares to engage with it.
Weaving together the discrete materials of her lived experience into her art — as wife, mother, daughter, friend and single parent — Raza has always offered a striking insight into the individual and universal soul of womanhood.
This exhibition is a virtual diary on different aspects of womanhood. A mix of autobiographical, confessional and universally gender-sensitive art — the works are open to several interpretations as per viewer sensibility. The reclusive attitude can indicate a spiritual quietude, it can even denote a world — weary feeling that causes withdrawal, or the artist is just giving form to feeling, no matter how dark, bitter or trivial, for its cathartic value. It can also be just a segment of An Ongoing Journey — a journey of self-knowledge. The onus is on the audience to weave its own narratives.
“An Ongoing Journey” was displayed at the Clifton Art Gallery from December 7 to December 13, 2017
Published in Dawn, EOS, January 14th, 2018