Two artworks from the show, welded and cast in copper and bronze
Two artworks from the show, welded and cast in copper and bronze

Amin Gulgee’s new sculptural formations, standing tall in his gallery like totem poles or guardians, seem to carry many secrets of time and history. Pieces of copper/cast copper and bronze, in the shape of letters in the traditional Arabic script balance gracefully, one on top of the other, in what seems like an effortless dance. The work titled ‘7’, shown recently in a preview in Karachi, travels to Galleria d’Arte Moderna, Rome, in a solo show this year. It’s curated by Paolo De Grandis and Claudio Crescentini and co-curated by Carlotta Scarpa.

Amin’s work is situated within the paradox of his times. While he has referenced the Chahar Bagh, or the four-part Mughal garden, in his work since the ’90s, here there is an unavoidable disruption of the traditional Islamic garden. His aesthetics also embraces the subtlety of the Persian, Urdu and Arabic scripts and there is a harmonious continuity of lines, which becomes the form. In this exhibition, the circular Nastaliq script emerges as a delicate nuance, a veil and a formation of lines like the rhythm of a musical note barely audible.

We are left to complete the work, to wonder at the word and the object that intervene in a rhythm of repetition. These repeated letters, such as the ‘Alif’, ‘Noon’ etc, present new possibilities of interpreting Amin’s sensibility. The incoherence of the words, disjointed from the original phrase, keep the viewer at a distance. It is as if the artist intended to extract the essence of the word, as he departs on a solo flight. He may also be negotiating the ‘sacred’ within, with an insistence on creating personal spaces that defy containment.

In his latest work, artist Amin Gulgee deals with the paradox of light and dark, disruption and embellishment, in moments of rapture and solitude

Repeated within a grid, the negative spaces invoke the movement of light and vision, to look beyond the frame, in seeing what is not apparently visible. What we really seem to have before us is Amin’s garden. A manifestation of the Islamic Chahar Bagh, there is a chadar of coal spread on the floor. Is this a negative space or a shadow of the grids? It is in gestures such as these that Amin exposes himself, without ego or self-censorship. He deals with the paradox of light and dark, disruption and embellishment, in moments of rapture and solitude.

In the Mughal garden, the Cheeni Khana is a water channel which runs over a wall of diyaas (lamps) lit in the niches appearing like a sheet of light. This chadar is reflected as a source of purity and an attempt at recreating the gardens of Paradise. In the essay ‘Rethinking the Islamic Garden’ Attilio Petruccioli describes the carpet of Khosrow 1 as “depicting a garden with streams and paths, with stones as bright as crystal depicting the illusion of water, the ground worked in gold, to look like earth.”

“The Persian garden,” Petruccioli says, “looked for an order, in a means of drawing earth and cosmos together.”

In Amin’s garden, reflection is transformed in meanings closer to the artist’s lived experience. Embellishment is not opulent but in a raw form. This garden is bare and minimal. The coal is dark, and penetrates many layers of terrain — the psychological and the social — with possibilities of renewed transformation.

In a prior performance, the Chahar Bagh was left to burn in a public space and in other performative happenings; Amin’s curatorial voice came through the jarring discord of up to 50 artists that he gathered in the enclosed gallery. Amin’s narrative exists between the calm and the tumultuous and the open and free.

“7” was held at the Amin Gulgee Gallery in Karachi from March 30 to April 7, 2018

Published in Dawn, EOS, April 29th, 2018

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