Gardenfinds 60 (2019), Usman Saeed
Gardenfinds 60 (2019), Usman Saeed

The relationship between man and water traces back beyond millennia and goes deeper than economics, food and emotional well-being. Since time immemorial, humans have been enamoured, inspired and stimulated by the omnipresence of water in any form around them. An unpremeditated and intimate bond is organically formed that is unique to every individual.

Art critic and curator Amra Ali set this as the premise of a show and gathered a group of artists who have previously been working with their individual as well as our collective relationship with various bodies of water.

Zeerak Ahmed treats the sea as a living organism and a humanised wilful agent. She captures its aural agency by using a scoring machine to translate the cacophony into discernible abstract drawings made from steel. From the organic, unabated motions of the waves to the interruptions from contact with debris, oscillations from five audios are layered into a sound piece as well as amalgamated into a singular portrait of the water body she encountered.

Seven artists narrate their personal encounters with water as an object, subject and concept and as metaphor

Sohail Zuberi exhibits a series of wooden wedges that were once used to bolster the structure of fishing boats by local shipwrights. Voluntarily disposed or accidentally detached, these dislocated and lost shims ultimately washed ashore at a site that the artist frequently visits. After rescuing the wandered kindred of triangular blocks, Zuberi presents them in various configurations that simulate the skeletal shape of the local horri boats which they were previously part of. He revives the particular colour palette that is used on these vessels to further characterise it.

Noorjehan Bilgrami’s mesmerising video is a presentation of the earthly process of farming, cultivating and eventually preparing indigo dye — one of the earliest natural dyes known to civilisation. Boiled and stirred, the liquid turns green and then a stark blue once oxidised. By showcasing the process, Bilgrami not only celebrates the potency of the indigo plant, but also displays the fluid flair of water which supports the tradition that entire communities depend on. Her stained paintings are a dialogue between ink and paper that accentuate their materiality through the diffusion, absorption and permeation.

The Indigo Sea I (2015), Noorjehan Bilgrami
The Indigo Sea I (2015), Noorjehan Bilgrami

Farrukh Adnan inspects the ancient city of Tulamba near his ancestral home. Situated at the eastern edge of River Ravi, the city’s former identity now lays either buried under newer constructions, or stands in ruins — eroded from rain and neglect. Adnan uses purposeful mark-making to map the topography of the region in personal diaries and postcards that draw an intimate engagement from the viewer. The marks are borrowed from the same indents left on the ancient bricks and ceramics that are still being discovered from the site. The grounded practice of ceramic, after all, has a vital and bosom relationship with water without which it would not survive.

The banks of the Ravi were also the sites of documentation for Usman Saeed. His book of photographs beautifully narrates the life of the river. It begins with its physical depiction and its use by the nearby inhabitants, and extrapolates into exploitation and abuse. However, the artist also showcases the river’s benevolent and altruistic nature by including photos of animals and children who relish the sanctuarised relief it provides.

Noor Ali Chagani’s miniature displays of construction and deconstruction are a reflection on the changing backdrop of his hometown in Lahore. He uses materials such as concrete, iron rods, and aluminium sheets, to immobilise the fugitive nature of the ever-changing urban landscape. The rusted sheets of metal and the collapsing rods in his drawings denote decay, overlaid stress and the exhaustion that the land is put through with the fractious growth and the need for power and control.

British Pakistani artist Rasheed Araeen’s expansive body of work, that showcases his engagement with water and the various cultural economics it harbours, served not only as an anchor for Ali, but also as an inspiration for the other artists. Araeen’s works from the ’50s and ’60s are now spread across the gallery and viewers can easily draw parallels that resonate in both his works and those of the other artists — from geometric abstraction to multiplicity of rhythmic algorithms, and from physical immersion such as in the ‘Chakra’ series to the documentation of seaports and coastal shores.

“Beyond The Waters” is being displayed at Koel Gallery in Karachi from October 22 to November 21, 2019

Published in Dawn, EOS, November 3rd, 2019