Our gallery spaces and artists have yet to explore the full potential of new artistic mediums and styles that have recently come to infiltrate our aesthetics in a globalised world, and to examine their cultural impact today. Japanese ‘anime’ or animation is one such style. Its history can be traced back to as far as the time period between the 17th and 19th centuries when Ukiyo-e emerged as a genre in the Edo period. These woodblock prints had a distinct graphic quality which was complemented by the use of a delicate line. It was in the 1970s that anime as we know it, with its more evolved visual style consisting of large-eyed characters and colourful hair, emerged in film and television.
Anime has clearly left a lasting impression on the works of Amna Hashmi, an Islamabad-based artist, and Brazil’s Luis Felipe K. Bigatto, who together explored this genre in a recent show titled To The Coffee Cave. The venue for the show was the Serena Hotel Gallery in Islamabad and curated by Satrang Gallery’s curator Zahra Khan. The works consisted of digital prints and paintings in watercolour and acrylic, with some being a combination of text and image. An animated short video running on loop was also featured.
Hashmi is a graduate of the National College of Arts, Lahore, with a specialisation in miniature painting. Bigatto is a software engineer from Brazil who collaborated with Hashmi on creating the text and formats in this unique project.
Amna Hashmi and Luis Felipe K. Brigatto reflect on reality, fantasy and moral dilemmas
To The Coffee Cave rests on the premise of an illustrated story that, to put it simply, involves a quest for a cup of coffee. Lularum, the heroine, is in search of coffee beans and this takes her on a fantastical journey that turns the most mundane of choices and decisions into the moral dilemmas faced by great heroes featured in historical epics that recount tales of conquests and battles. The use of text and image is drawn from Hashmi’s training as a miniature painter as well as from a love for computer games.
Historically, the muraqqa (album) is characteristic of Indian, Persian and even Ottoman miniature painting and featured both calligraphy (text) and illuminated manuscripts bound together in a book form. Hashmi similarly displays each leaf of her modern-day muraqqa as separate digital paintings, with some works containing both of text and image while others consisting only text narrating a summary of events. Interestingly, the layout and presentation is reminiscent of ’90s-style computer games ,while the text boxes originally common to miniature painting are replaced by a digital-style prompt ‘box’ and ‘windows’ commonly found in software such as Microsoft Windows. The interactive format implies that, like Lularum, the viewer is beset with the same choices made in this fantastical digital world.
Hashmi explains that, in our media-saturated lives, it’s important to highlight how our aesthetics has been irrevocably altered with the advent of the computer. In her eyes, the everyday holds the same importance as historical events hundreds of years ago. In this digital age, too, history is manipulated just as it was then, only the arena is digital now.
The exhibition was overwhelming in its choice of colour, with exquisitely executed anime-style illustrations. Lularum’s painted world is suffused with brilliant hues and the attention to minute detail is a testament to Hashmi’s skill. Lularum is lovingly drawn in a linear style characteristic of anime, featured in the interior of her home, outdoor spaces and fantastical landscapes.
Hashmi and Brigatto manage to surpass gimmicky artspeak such as kitsch, popular culture and even Japanese cultural terms that are integral to anime, such as ‘kawai’ — which implies ‘cute’, loveable, etc. — as visible in the execution of Lularum’s physiognomy. Instead, they have channelled these elements into exploring grim themes relating to fictional, and sometimes lost, histories and their manipulation. This element of reflection was never lost amidst the wit and humour of their artworks.
“To the Coffee Cave” was on display at Serena Hotel Gallery in Islamabad from March 7 to March 31
Published in Dawn, EOS, May 5th, 2019