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The lure of realism

October 13, 2018

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SOME of the art pieces on display at the exhibition. / Photos by Fahim Siddiqi / White Star
SOME of the art pieces on display at the exhibition. / Photos by Fahim Siddiqi / White Star

KARACHI: An exhibition of artist Belinda Eaton’s recent paintings is currently under way at the Canvas Gallery.

There’s a group of the artist’s admirers who feel that her work falls into the category of magical realism. It is an interesting thought. First, one needs to examine what the ism is all about.

Magical realism is a technique applied primarily in fiction (though it’s not confined to that genre alone) or came into vogue after fiction writers of the 20th century used it. The foremost example in that regard is Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s remarkable novel One Hundred Years of Solitude. It’s set in a fictitious town of Macondo. The story revolves around multiple generations of the Buendia clan. The way supernatural phenomena have been dealt with in the story and the manner with which out-of-the-ordinary things are treated as routine matter is often classified as the major feature of magical realism in the book.

In art, this form of expression is not that easily classifiable. But with Eaton’s work it is not difficult either — and at the same time, it has nothing to do with the kind of things that fictionists do.

Eaton focuses on faces. The face is the locale, if you like, which the artist uses to build her stories on. The embellished (or played around with) visages in her artworks make any attempt to interpret her creative ideas an exciting exercise. The mystique surrounding the faces of her subject(s) compels the viewer to know whether their existence is real, imaginary or part of the artist’s subconscious. For example, in ‘Face XVI’ (oil on canvas) the wistfulness in the woman’s eyes suggests that the backstory of the character has turned her ‘present’ into an apparitional being whose body is pretty much intact.

This tussle of body and soul can be seen in ‘Pomegranate Man’ as well. The pomegranate is a symbol of fertility. It indicates a certain facet of spirituality too. And the man’s face (in the painting) looks spiritually deficient, making the fruit in the background all the more an intriguing object to mull over. The real and the imaginary, body and soul, are conflated in a single image, which enables realism to take a back seat … willingly.

The exhibition concludes on Oct 18.

Published in Dawn, October 13th, 2018