Art is a testament to its time of creation; be it the 40,000-year-old cave paintings of Borneo that tell the tales of an ancient civilisation, or from any of the innumerable art movements that emerged over the centuries. Creators are affected by their surroundings: their past, present and impending future, and their ensuing work presents itself as an artefact and a guide, relaying the truths of its time.
As an artist, Akram Dost Baloch has long displayed the harsh realities of the province he hails from. His work has long been an attempt at creating a discourse with his audience/viewers of the relentless hardships of Balochistan.
In his statement for his current solo show displayed at Canvas Gallery, Baloch recalls, “One feels what one thinks and part of what one thinks is what one hears, sees and reads.” In the same way, the artist captures his surroundings in his work, drawing upon the local people, their land and culture for inspiration. In his most recent exhibition, Baloch orchestrated an entire oeuvre of solely three-dimensional woodworks.
Akram Dost Baloch’s three-dimensional woodworks reflect his role as a voice for Balochistan
The exhibition consists of a blend of free-standing sculptural pieces and wall-hung wooden reliefs. The reliefs sit in neat, rectangular frames that are also carved from wood. Unlike the paintings, however, these pieces are solely reliant on the brown hues of the wood and it is through his carving and the texture of the material that the artist manages to differentiate between the various planes. The primordial motifs of Balochistan, such as embroidery, woodcarving and weaving have long inspired the artist. Consequently, several design motifs emerge through his intricate carvings of the woodworks. Patterns emerge in the relief pieces, which further help distinguish between the foregrounds and backgrounds.
His woodcarvings take on a rather minimalistic route. Though keeping to the true spirit and artistic style that Baloch is known for, the artist allows his bold lines and stylized design to convey his message. The free-standing sculptures are almost devoid of any characteristics; long, slender forms with mere suggestions of knees and legs provide an association to the human form.
Talking about his paintings, the artist once said, “In my paintings, people are hidden behind their own layers. Men exist behind turbans and beards while women are hiding behind their veils.”
For his carvings, however, this does not seem to be the case. In several works, the figures appear as stylised nudes, no longer hidden under layers of veils or turbans. The artist, in turn, is no longer hiding his thoughts, but presenting the discomforting truths of his province through his works. He explains that through the current exhibition, he aims at creating a dialogue for the viewer in hopes of piercing through their ‘emotional dyslexia’, which he describes as an apathy and hesitation to fully engage with difficult facts. It is as if with the visual stripping of clothing, the layers covering the harsh truth are also being shed.
Water shortages, missing persons, political instability along with dilapidated conditions are some of the problems being faced by the largest yet severely uncared for province. Dedicated artists such as Baloch are working to maintain a dialogue between Balochistan and the rest of the country. Baloch’s work is not meant as an act of wallowing but rather an initiator of informed discourse.
Baloch has been a dedicated teacher since 1984 and is currently serving as the chairperson of the fine arts department at his alma mater, the University of Balochistan from where he received his Doctorate of Philosophy. He has also received numerous awards, including the President’s Pride of Performance in 2004.
Akram Dost Baloch’s solo exhibition was held at Canvas Gallery in Karachi from July 2 to July 11, 2019
Published in Dawn, EOS, July 21st, 2019