Seals 1, Minaa Haroon
Seals 1, Minaa Haroon

In a recent show at Koel Gallery in Karachi, two artists searched for meaning in everyday objects. They used similar but vastly different visual languages. Using textured surfaces, forms and reliefs to different effects, Minaa Haroon and Muhammad Ashraf employ distinct materials, processes and visuals, but there was a similar vein running through both bodies of work.

Haroon tries to find and reattribute meaning in life through the objects that constitute it and, in the process, recontextualises and reclassifies them. Human experience is seen through a collection of things that we come in contact with, use and often overlook and forget. They form the landscape of everyday life, but perhaps not of our memories. The work, in a way, saves these objects, committing them to a kind of physical embodiment of memory as an imprint or an impression on various materials, from hand-made paper to aluminium.

In the ‘Tissue Paper’ series, the imprint of used and discarded tissue paper is saved in silver aluminium and displayed in glass boxes with names of individuals, presumably the ones who they belonged to. Something that was touched and used and discarded is transferred to another, more concrete form and allowed to live on. Beyond that, it also preserves the human interaction with it.

Untitled, Muhammad Ashraf
Untitled, Muhammad Ashraf

There is also a sense of exalting the banal and the mundane and putting it on a pedestal, turning it into art through an intersection of art and life. In this way, it celebrates what is usually unnoticed. Little objects we find around our houses that form the mass of our clutter are presented almost as relics of a civilisation in ‘Seals.’ Much like the artefacts discovered in excavated graves of bygone eras, these illustrate the stories of our times, speak of our way of life and of doing things, of who we are as people.

Two artists search for meaning in everyday objects

Ashraf’s work is beautifully organic, violently colourful and textural, an exploration of materiality and form. The artist takes inspiration from the flowers of Lahore — Sumbal and Amaltas — yellow flower, which is also called “umeed ka phool” (flower of hope), in particular — but distorts and abstracts them through the process he employs. He claims to paint the act of painting, enjoying the process while the subject, its meaning or interpretations become secondary.

The way in which the artist uses oil paint turns it into a 3D material, and the painting becomes more of a relief with abstract shapes and forms. The thick wads of paint gleaming and pulsating with vibrance only sometimes resemble flowers. At other times, they are reminiscent of organic biological matter — blood, meat and tissue.

The intentional and unintentional connec­tions both artists draw between a human being and his everyday environment is striking, and makes the work layered and profound. Even when merely portraying the mundane, the artists’ search lays bare the true significance of the most ordinary human experiences.

“The Search” was on display at Koel Gallery from January 6 till January 16, 2020

Published in Dawn, EOS, January 26th, 2020

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