EXHIBITION: REFRAMING HISTORY

November 24, 2019

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Still Life With Fruit By Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio
Still Life With Fruit By Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio

The latest solo exhibition by Ayaz Jokhio, titled This is Not Margritte’s Painting, at Karachi’s Canvas Gallery brings interesting new works that emerge as a form of institutional critique. It contemplates the conventions of image-making, displays in galleries and museums, the art market and ingestion of art by an audience far removed in a digitally-connected world.

Using images from art history, the artist questions established norms and the ways in which we view and represent the world around us. Jokhio has appropriated portraits, landscapes and still-life images — the three stereotypical genres in painting — by European masters he is inspired by to challenge the conventions of art that they symbolise.

The artist has made intelligent use of framing to critique the act itself, questioning the notion of containing art within an imposed border for the purpose of ornamentation and display. He breaks these tethers, flipping the equation and turning the frame into the artwork itself in works such as ‘Poppy Field’ by Claude Monet and ‘Bouquet Of Flowers In Ceramic Vase’ by Jan Bruegel the Elder. The result is striking. With a blank space where the actual painting might fit, it deconstructs the grandeur and romanticism of the original work. ‘Still Life With Fruit By Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio’ is another piece where the entire painting is split into smaller components and framed separately in different mismatched frames, rendering the image unrecognisable.

An artist challenges the conventions of image-making, viewing and selling of art in an attempt to break free of its confined borders

In other works, such as ‘Adam And Eve’ by Albrecht Durer, the painting, along with the frame, is cut midway and placed on the floor rather than on the wall, again challenging the conventions of display. The exact cut-off point chosen by the artist is interesting, ending right before the private parts of the nude figures come into view, questioning the notions of censorship in art. Similarly, in ‘Hunt In The Forest’ by Paolo Uccello, the painting is split down the middle, literally breaking confining norms of art history.

This Is Not Margritte’s Painting (This Is Not A Pipe By Rene Margritte)
This Is Not Margritte’s Painting (This Is Not A Pipe By Rene Margritte)

This visual discomfort continues in other works, too, where the artist presents a tilted framed painting of a framed painting, held upright by gloved hands or mounted on a museum wall. It questions not only the display but the commodification of art by museums, collectors and auction houses. Perhaps these works can be best understood through the titular ‘This Is Not Margritte’s Painting’, which is a painting of Rene Margritte titled ‘This Is Not A Pipe’. It is, in fact, a painting of a smoking pipe.

By saying “This is not Margritte’s painting”, is the artist transferring ownership to him and stripping away the veneration associated with the original? Or is he simply saying, “This is a painting of Margritte’s painting?”

“This Is Not Margritte’s Painting” was displayed at Canvas Gallery in Karachi from November 5 to November 14, 2019

Published in Dawn, EOS, November 24th, 2019