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January 06, 2019


Island, 2018
Island, 2018

Dua Abbas Rizvi has been exhibiting her art at home and abroad, while also writing on art for various prestigious publications. The latest collection of artworks by the young National College of Arts (NCA)graduate was exhibited recently at Lahore’s O Art Space Gallery. The intriguingly titled exhibit, How To Abandon A Narrative That No Longer Serves You, presented an enchanting visual discourse. As one meanders through the gallery, the dream-like, surreal imagery of the display continues to build up the sense of intrigue.

The artist’s consummate painterly skills are put to use in creating stories that exude nostalgia and, at the same time, a desire to break free from norms and restrictions. Indeed, one discovers that the inspiration for these works is rooted in the artist’s interest in folktales — specifically, the stories from A Thousand and One Nights as well as Abrahamic traditions. Nostalgia enters the discourse as many assorted stories were told to the artist by her grand-aunt, to whom she pays homage in a set of paintings titled ‘The Vessel.’

The imagery also comes across as feminist. Rizvi seems to be commenting on the dilemmas of womanhood, and the sense of confinement that prevails in the lives of women. On the other hand, the qualities of “flight, mobility and escape” that feature in the exotic folklore lend a fascinating perspective, which is in stark contrast to the portrayal of women in contemporary local imagery. For instance, Pakistani television dramas, particularly, feature men who exude power and possess a sense of unfettered mobility, while women appear helpless, wallowing in self-pity, and with a bedroom-fixated existence.

Dua Abbas Rizvi’s ‘fairy tales’ exude nostalgia and a desire to break free from norms

Rizvi’s ‘Island’, a skilfully rendered work in pastels, epitomises this narrative. Two female figures reclining on a beautiful old-style wooden bed appear to be in a dream-like trance in the surreal setting, whereby the bed is surrounded by gently lapping waves of water.

Another mesmerising work, ‘The Last Bright Routes,’ is an antithesis of the earlier discourse. Here the illuminated faces of three women are being carried away in assorted vessels, on a dark night, away from a house in the distance. Another female portrait, ‘Her Lot, The Hearth,’ typifies a demure, well-to-do lady, with an unsure — almost fearful — quizzical expression. In ‘Her Kind’, the woman is a half-dressed, unconventional figure that seems to be sprouting ethereal wings.

“The Vessel” series comprises small prints that allude to the ‘urran khatola’ (literally, meaning, a flying cot or small bed), stories of yesteryear that the artist heard from her aunt as a child. The artist lets her imagination dictate the shape and form of the ‘vessel,’ each of a different material, and with a new face peering through. Two small installation-like works, ‘Disembarkment’ — each mounted on a light box — add to the mysterious, fairy-tale aura of the exhibition.

Rizvi’s latest creative endeavour emerges as one that is not only visually engaging, but also one that makes you think, feel and imagine. The dexterous combination of different mediums is likely to leave a lasting impression on any discerning viewer.

“How To Abandon A Narrative That No Longer Serves You” was held at O Art Space Gallery in Lahore from December 7 till December 17, 2018

Published in Dawn, EOS, January 6th, 2019