A recent group show, titled Boundaries … Boundless, held at the Koel Gallery in Karachi, drew art lovers into the quiet of a reflective calm. Photographer/journalist Tehmina Ahmad curated the work of six photographers: Amean J, Irfan Naqi, Madiha Aijaz, Mehreen Khalid, Umer Riaz and Momin Zafar.
Largely black and white or monochromatic, the photographs convey a sense of openness that the curator set out to explore as reflected in the title of the show. The show is largely grey, as none of the artists approach the subject in a head-on collision with stark contrasts of black or white, but rather focus on a subdued recording of objects, spaces and people. An important aspect to note here would be the lack of digital manipulation, apart from recording what has been in front of the camera. These are vignettes of the personal as visual diaries, recorded moments where the photographer transcends the immediacy of the physical reality that surrounds him or her.
In Riaz’s series of shots of the Kathak icon Nahid Siddiqui, we see a movement that is closer to a painted image. The photographer wraps himself in the dance, and it seems as if there is no camera separating him from the subject. He records the ‘movements meant to free the body and the spirit’. And in recording thus, the artist locates his inspiration in the movement of the dancer who herself is seeking something higher, perhaps unattainable. The frenzy, the ishq, the submission is seen in Siddiqui’s process and delivery as well as in the photographer’s vision. These photographs seem to melt the notion of space and time. These are the only photographs in bright, even florescent, colours in this show. They create a strong contrast to the overall monotones in the show appearing as a core, making an inner room of the gallery much like a sanctum.
An exhibition records moments in which photographers transcend the immediacy of the physical reality surrounding them
A series of large-scale photographs by Amean J. take the viewer into another aspect of movement. These are vignettes of the sea in Karachi, recorded at intervals of the tide. The large scale of the photos invites the viewer into the large expanse of the sea in a series of prints. Stillness, as the artist writes, “explores the erratic intimacy between land and the sea based on tides every day. Borders between the two blend, they move, they shift and they transform.” One is reminded of a similar quiet in the drawings of the late Lalarukh, who exhibited her part of her Ocean Series in the same gallery in 2010.
Zafar’s camera captures the transient relationship between man and the mountains, “the traveller and the terrain”, as he writes after a car trip to Gilgit-Baltistan in the monsoon season. Zafar’s exploration captured in the heavy rain is conveyed in the imagery of water as it condenses on glass, enlarged into photographic prints. These notes by artists become increasingly significant and the commentary can be read as an extension of the creative process.
The curator provides a layered experience where the imagery and the mechanical processes transcend into a larger discourse on ownership of the private and the public, the self and the environment.
“Boundaries...Boundless” was held at the Koel Gallery in Karachi from October 23 to November 1, 2018
Published in Dawn, EOS, November 11th, 2018