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EXHIBITION: HIDDEN IN LAYERS

November 25, 2018

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The Last Echo & Capsized I
The Last Echo & Capsized I

Rabia Ajaz is a talented young artist. She holds an MFA degree from the Pratt Institute. I can recall one of her earlier exhibitions, held a couple of years ago, which was a site-specific endeavour in an old, large but dilapidated home that was brought alive by her rather out-of-the-box canvases.

Ajaz’s most recent creative effort is a step forward from something similar, and beckons the viewer to find meaning in familiar objects that she renders in sensitive compositions. ‘Breath, entangled’ is the theme and title of the show that is presented in her quintessential, sensitive and quizzical style. The invitation card for the exhibit in itself was a prelude of sorts to the theme of the displayed works. Concealing and yet revealing, the text on the invite was covered by a semi-transparent paper in an obviously symbolic way. Thus, the invocation to explore that which is behind a surface begins at the very outset of the exhibition. And indeed, that is exactly what the artist is trying to do. In Ajaz’s own words: “These paintings are a meditation on how human beings bear witness to that which has been concealed behind surfaces, whether pristine or blemished.”

The 12 small to medium-sized paintings in this recent exhibition were rendered in acrylics on canvas as well as vasli, and were displayed at Ajaz’s quaint little studio from where she works. Nowadays, a number of talented artists are opting to exhibit their work in their own space rather than in commercial galleries. The pressures of commercialism and even, at times, the unprofessional attitude of galleries is cited by a number of artists, including Ajaz, for this recent trend. Having exhibited her work abroad in a variety of well-known galleries, her confidence in managing her own studio gallery was apparent, and it was heartening to see a number of famous artists grace the inaugural day of the exhibit.

An exhibition of Rabia Ajaz’s work compels the viewer to explore something beyond the obvious

As for the paintings, they come across as visually engaging and aesthetically pleasing in a subtle and sensitive way. The meditative aspect of the work is pervasive, and the theme of invoking the viewer to explore beyond the surface flows from one image to the other, despite the variety of symbols. Roses submerged in water, locked doors, closed windows, old switchboards, entangled wires, the pricks of a safety pin, or the lone image of a concealed canvas, all play their part in building a narrative. The images are realistic, almost in a miniature-like format in some of the works. One is tempted to delve into the meaning beyond the obvious, to construct a story that may lie behind that which has not been revealed in an overt way.

Breathe Out, Breathe In
Breathe Out, Breathe In

Ajaz’s paintings also seem to exude the mood of our society in general. The closed doors with locks intact, the sealed windows and the suffocated flowers invoke a poignancy borne out of our social dilemmas, where concealment and suppression of the truth often seems to be the order of the day.

“Breath, entangled” was held at The Studio, Gulberg 3 in Lahore from November 10 till November 17, 2018

Published in Dawn, EOS, November 25th, 2018