— Photos by Mohammad Asim
— Photos by Mohammad Asim

ISLAMABAD: A solo exhibition by Pride of Performance winning artist Akram Dost Baloch featuring a new collection of pieces in three distinct styles opened at the Satrang Gallery on Tuesday.

The collection, titled Shanakht (identity), builds on Mr Baloch’s emblematic representations of the socioeconomic narrative of Balochistan but expands the story to chronicle modern incursions into the province.

His imagery is a visual treat with one assemblage of paintings showcasing his classic stream of earthen colours reminiscent of the land with Baloch faces looking stoically, grimly ahead, while another group incorporates grid-like lines dividing the canvas against a background of motifs drawn from civilisations and culture of Balochistan – paintings that are his comment on new developments underway in the region where once flourished Mehrgarh.

The most striking works, however, are a distinct departure in style showing the master artist’s keenness to experiment, innovate and rethink long held ideas. These canvases are monochromatic, black and white works exploring the landscape of Balochistan cut through with white rivers run dry.

Mr Baloch’s work has always documented the social, political and economic anxieties that are rampant among his people and across his land. Balochistan stands apart in the unforgiving landscape and the historical marginalisation with little or no development, infrastructure and opportunities. A state that is reflected in the expressions found in Baloch’s figurative works.

It is also a space where access to the materials with which to make art were limited and creative expression found space in motifs carved into blocks of wood and stone, embroidered into fabrics and woven into carpets. Mr Baloch has included those motifs in each of his paintings creating an unbreakable link with his roots, his own identity.

Deputy High Commissioner of Britain Richard Crowder, who was the chief guest at the exhibition, said: “It has been absolutely fascinating. I was saying to Akram Sahib, I think your skill and artistry are a joy to look at, but also the theme of identity with all layered history of Balochistan comes together.”

He added: “Hearing Akram Sahib’s descriptions, looking at his technical artistry, I feel like he has shared a bit of his own identity as well as the identity of the people of Balochistan. It is an important theme as we all struggle with identity. It has been truly stimulating.”

“There has been an evolution, a change in my work as I have also experimented stylistically in black and white works with washes. This is work that has not been exhibited here before. In art you have to show where you stand, which requires effort with your tools,” Mr Baloch said.

He added: “My work is about issues in Balochistan but it is also about nature and the landscape – the mountains, the coast and the structures and depressions that surround them. I am portraying these in abstract forms as I understand them. There remains a reality in my depictions, even in the abstractions.”

He added: “In art, there is a rebellion, a freedom with every exploration. I was communicating a reality of oppression and deprivation through my figurative work but this abstract work is a departure from that. I have relied on our traditional motifs for inspiration and those continue to play a part in all my work.”

Published in Dawn, January 22nd, 2020