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February 25, 2018


Alternative, Hammad Gillani
Alternative, Hammad Gillani

Two independent expressions in a combined show, Deconstructed Reconstruction by artists Sajid Khan and Hammad Gillani at Chawkandi Art, highlighted the vagaries of form and formlessness as an illustrative device. They are miniature artists by training and have utilised the Wasli format to articulate vastly different ideas through equally different approaches — one indulged in recall to solicit reform and the other chose to tap subliminal depths.

Moving away from his signature expression of cloud formations as a commentary on the moods of nature and man-made realities, Khan opted to address city-related issues through a new approach. Juxtaposing two opposing images to create a past present state of the surrounding environment, he attempts to point at crucial issues. Images of a bustling city (of lights) alongside eroding edifices spelled ruination through apathy and neglect. In his visuals of crumbling, corroding hills, he romances history to evoke a region’s golden age and its mouldering present. There is also an indirect comment on waste mismanagement and its effect on pollution. Readings of a city’s inability to upgrade and advance with the times is perhaps the most telling aspect of the artist’s obliquely suggestive works. A cheerless palette of dull hues heightens the sombre nature of his themes.

Objective art depicts easily recognisable subject matter whereas nonobjective or abstract art has no identifiable forms

Unlike Khan’s pictorial imagery, Gillani’s art is all about giving form to formlessness. Instead of building a complete visual he focuses mainly on capturing the initial perceptions that motivate the mind. A play of rudimentary strokes unadorned and primal is his forte. This art is more about the absence of premeditated structure, conception or approach than a mere casual, loosened or relaxed art procedure. He rejects the traditional treatment of form and development in favour of explorations of timbre and rhythm as his strokes sweep and slide intuitively, regardless of the space he leaves or covers. What the onlookers perceive is a quiet play of loops, sweeps and scratches — some relatively animated, others so minimal and inaudible that one has to strain one’s ears to catch the low decibels.

In appearance, Gillani’s spontaneous renderings resemble Art Informel (from the French informe, meaning unformed or formless) which inclined towards the gestural and expressive, with repetitive calligraphic marks and compositional formats related to Abstract Expressionism.

A work of art is the expression of a completely new idea. It is the process of breathing life into something private and personal to create an emotional bond between the artist and his audience. An artist will usually be aiming to inspire a feeling but as art can be interpreted very differently by the viewer, it rarely has just one meaning. Think about the myriad — different opinions on Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. Is it a smile of pleasure? Is it a grimace? Or is it neither? Polarised responses can trigger debate on the art in question and draw further attention to its premise. And in the case of formless art there is also the danger of it becoming lost in translation. Its non-specificity leaves it open to this and that interpretation. Understanding and appreciation of art, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

Untitled V, Sajid Khan
Untitled V, Sajid Khan

“Deconstructed Reconstruction” was displayed at the Chawkandi Art in Karachi from January 30 to February 6, 2018

Published in Dawn, EOS, February 25th, 2018