A recent group show titled An Apology to Shaikh Ayaz, held at the Chawkandi Art Gallery, draws the viewers into conversations between the visual arts and regional literature. The curators, Jamal Ashiqain and Mariam Mushtaq Kazi, set the appropriate tone to the exhibition as an ode to the Sindhi poet. The diversity of the invited artists, both local and international — Agha Jandan, Khuda Baksh Abro, Alia Bilgrami, Khalil Chishtee, Abdul Jabbar Gul, Feica, Meher Afroz, Aqeel Solangi, Dr Mohsin Keiany, Zohra Amarta and Mariam Mushtaq — reflect the all-encompassing nature of the poet’s vision.
Afroz, who interpreted Faiz’s verses in Waadi-i-Sina as a form of marsiya in an earlier series, has used thread to weave patches of gold fabric to refer to Ayaz’s vision of hope.
One is enamoured by the simplicity of Bilgrami’s digital prints that portray a moonlit sky dark enough to lose oneself in. The artist disrupts the ‘perfect’ picture of an atmospheric sky, encircling the moon as if by a marker or white chalk. It is, in a way, related to Ayaz’s search (and hers in turn) asking the moon to guide her/him, in finding the lover. This is derived from Ayaz’s poem Aray Chand, Aray Chand — also sung by the iconic singer Sarmad Sindhi.
The poetry of Shaikh Ayaz inspires local and international painters and sculptors to begin new conversations in the world of art
Solangi’s painting of clouds refers ‘to the night clouds that lift you from one place to another’ and to the chrysanthemum flower, as ‘a symbol of eternity’ as mentioned in Ayaz’s poetry.
The textured sky in Abro’s painting seems to reflect painful journeys, depicting a restless and dark sky in frenzied brush strokes. In between spaces one can view a faint yellow-gold sky. It may be the same reference to light as addressed by Afroz, showing the ability of Ayaz’s poetry to be interpreted on many levels and far beyond constraints of time.
The relationship between Ayaz’s poetry and the erasure of marginal voices is depicted in a painted canvas of an almost erased text on a blackboard by Jandan. The artist critiques the system where history has been erased or knowledge has been lost. The following words of Ayaz are still visible on Jandan’s board: ‘Journeys of Truth, Forts of Lies’ and that ‘salvation (the poet used the word Jannat) lies in wiping these out too.’ However, Jandan’s work appears to be beautiful, like a sensitive drawing with lines and marks, and far from being didactic.
Feica, the master illustrator, draws figures intertwined and overlapping as if bound in an uncomfortable embrace or bondage. He refers to Ayaz’s verses reminding society of its social injustice: ‘Qadam qadam par hajoom randakhana, nazar nazar mein sharab khana.’
Chishtee literally constructs a Christ-like figure ‘composed’ from Ghalib’s verse ‘Ibn-i-Maryam hua karay koi’ and reaches towards Ayaz through Ghalib’s satirical verse. If Chishtee is negating the conservative dialogue of a politicised religion, he is also constructing from the knowledge which is based in traditional genre such as Ghalib’s ghazal. His text in Urdu appears to be religious at first glance; perhaps the artist is also studying the paradox of false notions and twisted words. By reflecting on Ayaz through the older poet, he opens the conversation for marginalised regional vision such as Ayaz’s. However, the artist finds resonance in the futility and helplessness of Ghalib’s verses, and urges the viewer to read beyond the figure and the text, into the ethos and history of suffering.
“An Apology to Shaikh Ayaz” was held at Chawkandi Art in Karachi from July 23 to August 2, 2019
Published in Dawn, EOS, August 4th, 2019