Soraya Sikander’s artworks in Inscape 2018 exhibited at the Unicorn Gallery, Lahore sing with colours and a poetic sensibility.

One could even say that they are unabashedly indulgent, both in their use of saturated colour and texture.

Executed in oils on canvas the works can be roughly divided into two categories: landscapes and indoor paintings of flowers and floral compositions. While the landscapes are mostly on rectangular and square canvases, the floral compositions have been executed on circular canvases. Yet to reduce them to such prosaic descriptions would be a travesty because they are an experience.

How many times have we looked out the window and seen a sky or horizon suffused with different hues each time? How do we capture permanence in the transience of nature? In fact, why even answer that question? Sikander’s liquidy drips, speckles, drizzles and gestures, as she describes nature in her distinct visual vocabulary, teach us to sit back and enjoy the impossibility of ever knowing the answer to these ruminations.

Soraya Sikander’s paintings explore the realm between pure abstraction and pure representation, where colour and tactile quality of the medium assume paramount importance

Henri Matisse said, “Purer colours … have in themselves independently of the objects they serve to express, a significant action on the feelings of those who look at them.”

The red in ‘Sunset’ certainly plays to that belief. Hues explode and invade our senses. Dark silhouettes of spindly trees and branches lash out against an iridescent red sky and lend themselves to a multitude of metaphors and associations. Nature is pulsating with energy and at the cusp of change. Our heart expands as we begin weaving our way through metaphors.

Yet in ‘Horizon-Dark’ these trees are transformed to become an immersive and brooding labyrinth of vertical and undulating linear forms. It becomes a magnified study in spatial abstraction, or dark musings on a rainy day.

‘Mangroves’, ‘Sea’ and ‘Sky’ are an ode to the majesty and spiritual power of nature and also sum up the artist’s love of her city’s natural landscape for she hails from Karachi. Horizontal gradations, spindly drips and expansive gestures are the summation of an ode to spaces that transcend representation — some are opalescent, while others are suffused simply with their yawning vastness punctuated by intensity and texture.

In terms of formal qualities the paintings also demonstrate the artist’s painterly skill and attention to detail: the essence of a landscape or a seascape is duly captured for the vastness of the sea and its foamy gradations can be easily discernible. Whereas the long translucent tresses that drip and sway imply the roots in ‘Mangroves.’


Sikander’s studies of flowers and bouquets set in floral vases are magnified in terms of view and the circular shape of the canvases lends support to this idea, yet these close ups are studies in colour, contrast and form. An intense and unsaturated green in the background vies for space with flowers in hues of red and pink which are executed in thick outlines in the tradition of Vincent van Gogh, in ‘Webby.’

If Edouard Manet was of the view that “There are no lines in nature, only areas of colour, one against the other”, then Sikander certainly follows this to a tee for her studies explore the realm between pure abstraction and pure representation where colour and tactile quality of the medium assume paramount importance.

“Inscape 2018” is being exhibited at the Unicorn Gallery, Lahore, from February 20 to March 4, 2018

Published in Dawn, EOS, March 4th, 2018