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A journey through the future

October 12, 2018

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ISLAMABAD: Award winning digital artist Omar Gilani’s solo exhibition of science fiction artwork hit the capital’s art scene on Thursday pulling a large number of art connoisseurs, diplomats and artists.

The exhibition Islamabad: A Journey Through the Future was inaugurated by Austrian Ambassador Briggitt Blaha at Aqs Gallery.

It is the second in a series of four-city exhibitions that showcases cultural diversity, heritage, social and environmental issues and contradictions in Pakistani society in an alternative sci-fi media.

Speaking about the artist and his work, the Austrian ambassador said Omar is a multifaceted artist – a graphic designer, a university professor, writer and illustrator.

Although he has not acquired any formal art education from any institute, he ventured into the art world because of his passion for Pakistani art and culture that brought him back to his country quitting his PhD study in Robotics Design to present his vision for future Pakistan, the ambassador said.

“Omar’s work is amazing and unique as it connects its past with present and presents his vision for the future; it is different from the sci-fi in the West, which is only about the future full of technological advancement and disconnect from the past,” Ms Blaha said.

On a lighter note, the ambassador said Omar could be a good adviser to any government to give advice on how to plan and decide about future development.

Sponsored by the Prince Claus Fund and the British Council, the digital artist through the exhibition series aims to engage people with their culture in unique ways and to present a fresh, brighter image of the Pakistan to the world.

The artist has shown the urban and rural divide, the social contrast, old bazaars and skyscrapers of mega cities, spacecrafts through digital paintings, projection mapping, virtual reality, interactive displays, animations, ambient sound.

In 2016, his pet project Pakistan + was conceived to explore how Pakistan would look like in an alternative sci-fi reality. The project garnered acclaim in national and international media.

His work has been exhibited in Islamabad in 2014, Lahore in 2016, Columbia University and Dubai in 2017 with an upcoming exhibition in Seoul, Korea.

— White Star
— White Star

Senior artists Mansur Rahi and Hajra Mansur appreciated the work of Omar saying he had beautifully combined all elements, integrated them and created a balance of texture and colour.

“The artist has portrayed alternative future, imaging through the lense of technology and aesthetics of class difference very skillfully,” commented Dr Phipp Zehmisch who teaches anthropology and sociology at the Lahore University of Management Sciences.

New media art is a fresh wave that has hit the Pakistani art scene in recent past, said curator Zahra Sajid.

“With emerging artists showcasing augmented reality, virtual reality, hovering displays, projection mapping and digital art displays on screens as well as canvas, are exposing our masses to an interaction that would result in a wider narrative and dialogue that is extremely essential,” she suggests.

A mechanical engineer, Mr Gilani has painted visions for a brighter future, rekindle hope among the youth bulge that makes over 60pc of the country’s population, and to motivate them to play a role in society.

About the sci-fi version of Pakistan project, he said: “I felt getting disconnected from Pakistani art and culture. There are so many negitivity around to face on daily basis that some positive things are hidden behind that layers. So I started augmenting them in alternative and different ways to show that art can be presented not only on canvas and in print but through animations and virtual reality.”

The second reason of doing sci-fi art was to encourage young people to know the importance of our culture and present it in certain ways and a lot of things for them to resonate, he asserted.

“The people of the subcontinent are ignored in sci-fi art and writing… we are reduced to barbarians, living in terrorist wasteland. As a native of these lands I can’t relate,” he lamented.

“Present day Pakistani society is a mix of eastern and western influences, against a distinct ecological and aesthetic backdrop. My work explores this unique cultural identity through the lense of contemporary fantasy and sci-fi,” said the artist.

Published in Dawn, October 12th, 2018