Aqeel Solangi’s art carries a fantastical quality — it resembles reality but creates dreamscapes. His narratives emerge from a personal space and, while his compositions present themselves as landscapes, they depict emotional and psychological spaces. Aasim Akhtar, the curator of his latest solo show at the Chawkandi Art Gallery in Karachi, refers to them as ‘inscapes’.
Fictional Homelands is an in-depth survey of the last 10 years of Solangi’s oeuvre, including works from his personal collection that have never been seen before. It allows the viewers to trace the trajectory of his work from 2008 to 2018. The accompanying catalogue acts more like a monograph of the artist, featuring works not included in the show to map and understand his artistic journey.
Growing up in a rural environment with an agrarian background that kept him busy working in the fields, Solangi draws inspiration from nature. The artist creates surreal worlds, with the language of metaphors that is indicative of his fascination with poetry and prose, such as that of Kalidasa and Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai. Poetry seeps into his visual language and infuses his works with otherworldliness, while certain elements, such as the recurring image of clouds, is inspired directly by Kalidasa’s poem Meghaduta, which talks of clouds as messengers for separated lovers.
Through the language of metaphor, Aqeel Solangi explores surreal landscapes and personal themes
Other visual symbols and metaphors that recurrently appear throughout his works are flowers, ellipses and elements of nature, picked up from various sources. It is the periwinkle, however, repeated and turned into almost a texture that has, in a way, become a signature that defines his art. Called sadabahar in Urdu, it is this name that defines the flower’s symbolism for Solangi, as it translates to “everlasting spring” and signifies the passage of time. In many of the works, it appears along with heavy clouds, together speaking of time and memory, movement and change, such as in the work ‘Bahaar Aayi To Jaisey…’ In ‘The Root’ similar themes are at play, but with an attempt to find firm grounding amid changing times.
While some of his works lean heavily towards surrealism, almost resembling Dali in style, most are more poetic in nature and depict fragments of ideas. ‘Parao’ and ‘Parao II’ show a tent, a makeshift temporary residence that is used during travel. The theme of transience in Solangi’s works is directly addressed here, encapsulated by the tent and the clouds, tied together by the periwinkle. ‘Untitled (The Fruitless Tree)’ is another work full of metaphor, conceived during a time of personal turmoil for the artist, and the tree in a way represents the artist himself. While the tree is barren and fruitless, the periwinkle is juxtaposed on top in ellipses and gives it life.
A lot of his works are also inspired by his travels and the resulting experiences and encounters. All of the works from 2016 acquire a completely different visual language as they were conceived in the UK during his Master’s programme. They have a more Western aesthetic and imagery, reminiscent in some ways of the works of David Hockney. The metaphorical language is shed in favour of a more representational style, depicting moments from everyday life around him.
Solangi’s work exists somewhere between familiarity and unfamiliarity, exploring enigmas and mysteries. The landscapes he creates become a strange version of reality, emerging from the land of imagination.
“Fictional Homelands” was on display at the Chawkandi Art Gallery in Karachi from February 28 till March 12, 2019
Published in Dawn, EOS, March 24th, 2019