Circumscribe (2018)
Circumscribe (2018)

New York-based artist Talha Rathore’s first solo show, Sowing Seeds, at Chawkandi Art Gallery in 2011 garnered acclaim for introducing a different type of subject matter into the realm of miniature painting: ‘the irksome feeling of being observed’. Three years later, in her second show, Celebrating Life, these ‘seeds’ or unicellular organisms formed the underpinning of Rathore’s works furthered in vitality. This year, Rathore’s oeuvre takes an ominous turn — Indispositions brings back her signature motifs; however, they are soiled and distressed. In this latest solo exhibition at Chawkandi Art Gallery, Rathore observes faith through contemplative paintings that depict bad bacteria vehemently invading our personal and collective space.

Working primarily from New York, Rathore’s work has a different cultural and contextual connotation. As a trained miniature artist whose visual vocabulary is a unique invention of her own, the artist’s contemporary miniatures frequent the ‘unicellular organism’ that call out to life, hope, energy and now portentously, indispositions. Through painstakingly painted select eight artworks with a colour palette dominant in red, brown and green, the artist chooses to tell stories that are interlinked with conversations, tensions, enmities, alliances and experiences.

The works look very similar at first. However, they reveal unique features when prudently viewed for a longer while. For instance, take the painting ‘Circumscribe’ (2018). A curvilinear tree bark is painted in the centre of the work upon which many tiny leaves engulf the bark like a halo. Curved branches tangle with leaves as clear borders demarcate the halo with red brushwork on a white background. Finally, a thin frame rendered in red and containing tiny white identical motifs, borders the painting, a trait borrowed from traditional South Asian and Persian miniature painting.

Talha Rathore tells stories that are interlinked with conversations, tensions, enmities, alliances and experiences

Our growth, either collectively as a nation or individually as persons that are weaved into the fabric of our ecological macrocosm, often gets hampered by ill fate, violent experiences and enmity. In ‘Subtle Perception I’ (2018), the bark of a tree is divided in two while its green foliage is tainted with red blobs of paint. A pattern seems to emerge here in Rathore’s paintings. If the bark is an entity and the green foliage a network of multiple other organisms, entities and relationships, then the red burst of paint tainting the foliage is the indisposition. This is the illness, the underlying disease that represents brutally tackled indifferences amidst our presence.

Subtle Perception I (2018)
Subtle Perception I (2018)

‘Deception I’ (2009) is a curious piece of work. An older work created from 2009, shows two organic shapes that are imposed on a map. This is the map detailing the network of the subway trains in New York City, which witnesses a hustling crowd of thousands every day. The inclusion of a work detailing an American city, with the only blue-toned painting in the display, may first seem out of context. However, it is not so different from Karachi, a city bustling with crowds, where life thrives amidst all types of pollutions. Thus, the inclusion of ‘Deception I’ can be singled out as a sign that we are not alone in our struggle and neither is the situation hopeless.

It also leads us to see how Rathore’s trajectory of work has continued. Celebration has evolved into something darker, fragmented, a forewarning that personal or social, individual or collective doom is upon us. Yet hope lingers, because while the trees in Rathore’s paintings sway or split, they still exist.

“Indispositions” was displayed at Chawkandi Art Gallery in Karachi from February 11 to February 20, 2020

Published in Dawn, EOS, March 1st, 2020