When people who we have loved deeply pass on, they are never truly lost. The current exhibition at Canvas, titled Love Letters by Nazia Ejaz, is a daughter’s portrayal of her mother. It is as much a study of remembering as of reflecting.
The exhibition had been on the back-burner for several years but now Ejaz felt ready to revisit her mother’s loss with the sensibility of a mature adult. Internalising her grief through recollection, she tries to rationalise and reposition her memories as a source of comfort, strength and inspiration. That the mother in question happens to be the legendary singer Madam Noor Jehan adds another dimension to this mother-daughter relationship. The melody queen’s larger-than-life persona feeds into Ejaz’s art-making process.
Mixing the old with the new and the real with the abstract, the Love Letters collection centres primarily on pattern and portraiture. Transferring photographs of Noor Jehan on to the canvas, then gilding or repainting them, Ejaz combines her printmaking and painterly abilities to recast a mother’s image through her art practice. The prominent use of floral and geometric patterns and gold leafing are the other major components of the artworks.
Creating abstract compositions around old photographs of her mother, Madam Noor Jehan, Nazia Ejaz looks anew at her early life as the daughter of an iconic diva
Informal photographs, overstated with gold embellishment or an emphatic use of cast shadow, are in keeping with the diva’s extraordinary and glamorous persona. This also aligns with the artist’s own printmaking practice, based on creative use of additive materials, and her flair for cosmetic beautification as a make-up artist.
Pattern is one of the main visual elements used by abstract artists (along with colour, form, line and texture) to create compelling compositions. Ornate, elaborate and decorative floral patterns foreground the portraits Ejaz has made, without losing their identity as rich design elements. Some paintings centre entirely on designs, such as ‘Her Lehza’, a scintillating grid of green and gold, another painting which is a repeat pattern of black and gold butterflies and a royal blue and gold calligraphy diptych. ‘Scriptures Of Love’ illustrates the artist’s ongoing exploration of her inner self in abstract modalities.
Indulging in selective portrayals of her mother, Ejaz shows Noor Jehan mainly in thoughtful repose and as an idealised beauty. Only one painting highlights the protective maternal instincts and mother-child bonding in which Madam is shown closely embracing her infant daughter. The delicate application of ornamental gold leaf in the surrounding complements this emotional closeness.
Paintings relating to the mother figure are often underscored with the artists’ individual feelings. Human beings are inextricable mixtures of personal and cultural environments and of changing times and evolving relationships. Engagements in the arts offer possibilities for making a complex world meaningful, as visual images open the mind to new corners of reality. For Ejaz, a reinvention of her mother’s earlier portraits is an opportunity to look anew at her childhood and subsequent years and reappraise her thoughts and sense of self and belonging.
“Love Letters” is being held at Canvas Gallery in Karachi from October 8 to October 17, 2019
Published in Dawn, EOS, October 13th, 2019