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August 04, 2019


Losing Myself Finding Myself (2019), Samya Arif
Losing Myself Finding Myself (2019), Samya Arif

A recent group show at AAN Gandhara Art-Space, titled ‘If You Have a Garden in Your Library II,’ is the second of a two-part exhibition with Malika Abbas and Amna Naqvi as its curatorial advisers. Responding to an essay by Umberto Eco “Di Bibliotheca” (The Library), which talks of experiencing the library as an adventure, the curators draw connections between the library, the garden and the gallery space. The gallery becomes a visual library. It sows the seeds of imagination, germinating ideas and spreading knowledge — a metaphorical reflection of a well-tended garden.

The artists in the show were invited to respond to this idea, both visually and conceptually. In this second iteration, they seem to have leaned more towards this aspect of the garden, and the element of the fantastical, imaginative and the surreal that both the title and the excerpt from the essay evoke.

Samya Arif’s illustrative works are presented almost like excerpts from a graphic novel, featuring dreamlike sequences. The artist claims to be breaking the monotony of everyday existence and the isolation of living on her own for the first time in her life. One would think this would mark a new beginning for an individual with new adventures, but the artist faces disillusionment and feels the need to escape this new reality. As she reimagines mundane moments from her day in fantastical ways, there is almost a childlike tendency to play, pretend and derive excitement from the ordinary. It is as though she is evoking the sensations of childhood and simpler times when one could afford to be carefree.

Four artists respond to the idea of the library as a site for adventure and imagination

Sara Khan’s work also features bizarre and fantastical imagery which presents normal everyday concepts with a twisted perspective. Her compositions seem to be speaking in code and carry a sort of conflict within them, with dark and grotesque visuals that are strangely beautiful. They depict little pockets of musings, disjointed and spread across a vast landscape. There is a kind of spontaneity to the imagery, as though the artist paints unrestrained thoughts and makes impulsive connections that turn into visual analogies. ‘Slippery Seal Babies’ is a dark twist on the concept of motherhood, drawing comparisons with a fertile field.

Wild Things You Make My Heart Sing, I (2019),Cyra Ali
Wild Things You Make My Heart Sing, I (2019),Cyra Ali

Cyra Ali’s work again creates interesting juxtapositions of different elements that result in bizarre visuals. The combination of paint and embroidery in her works typically addresses established gender roles and female sexuality. In ‘Wild Things You Make My Heart Sing I’, she seems to be addressingof sexual freedom and agency, as a tiger leaps over a flowing fountain, on a canvas of a painted net.

Distortion (2019), Onaiz Taji
Distortion (2019), Onaiz Taji

Onaiz Taji’s work is perhaps the most visually detached from the rest. It is reminiscent of pen-and-ink illustrations in the old classics that one would read in school. His work builds itself from the tiny unit of the human body, repeated to create a homogenous whole. Each part retains its individuality, carefully rendered with delicate precision. The works are at once simple and complex, and make one ponder the truth in the phrase “strength in numbers”, as each individual loses its essence and presence within the larger mass of the crowd. In ‘Untitled I’ these bodies pile up and become a landscape — a mass of humans losing their humanity.

“If You Have a Garden in Your Library … II” is being displayed at AAN Gandhara Art-Space in Karachi from July 4 till August 9, 2019

Published in Dawn, EOS, August 4th, 2019