EXHIBITION: INVERTED GAZES

Published August 9, 2020
Ordinary Letters (Series) 4, Muhammad Zeeshan
Ordinary Letters (Series) 4, Muhammad Zeeshan

Pakistan’s finance ministry recently revealed that three million jobs have been lost because of Covid-19. With shifting priorities and safety precautions, job opportunities have plummeted, leaving many impoverished. However, it’s brought forth the question of what it means to be socially responsible in the face of a crisis and a local venture quickly responded. ‘Money Provides Culture Inspires’ is a social impact programme and joint endeavour by Muhammad Zeeshan and Sanat Initiative that has begun providing self-employment opportunities to the citizens through the supply of auto-rickshaws, sewing machines and other equipment, giving people control of their own financial stability. The money for these purchases is generated from each of Zeeshan’s work that is sold through Sanat and includes sales from his recent exhibition.

Zeeshan is an internationally acclaimed artist and the curator of the Karachi Biennale 2019. The motivation of bringing a positive change to others came from earlier visits to his hometown, Mirpurkhas, which had been severely affected by the pandemic. His conversations with common people there made him realise that they would prefer to work for their wages rather than receive handouts. Their support of small businesses and daily wage workers extends to the whole of Pakistan and will continue for the next year too. The programme initiated with the opening reception of his exhibition Ordinary Letters held at Sanat Initiative.

Ordinary Letters (Series) 5
Ordinary Letters (Series) 5

With a mixture of paint, print and laser cut, Zeeshan’s latest work comes in response to Forgotten Masters: Indian Painting for the East India Company, an anthology of ‘Company Paintings’ that were created by Indian painters and commissioned by the British Raj.

As a form of documenting the exotic flora and fauna found in the Subcontinent, the East India Company appointed local miniature painters to create these works, which differed from the traditional miniature practice in terms of linear perspective and realistic form, thereby creating a new style of painting that bore a European aesthetic.

Through his latest exhibition, Muhammad Zeeshan provides job opportunities to those who have been severely hit by the coronavirus pandemic

In Ordinary Letters, the artist converses with these Company paintings through his own practice of miniature painting, by amalgamating imagery from the book as well as his previous works. In several works, figures of Eastern and Western origin are juxtaposed, much like opposing pieces on a chess board, each calculating their next move.

Ordinary Letters (Series) 2
Ordinary Letters (Series) 2

Zeeshan uses clothing to emphasise the change brought on during British Rule. In one painting, a soldier in British uniform is greeted by locals wearing the traditional Peshwaas, which makes one question, which of the two styles one sees several men wear today. Even horses were affected by this rule: as one stands strong and natural, another is painted with a clipped tail and altered visage to meet British requirements. The Rodiya women have a strong presence in Zeeshan’s work. These women, from the low castes of Sri Lanka, roamed bare chested, which for the British, became a sight to be captured and curated for their Empire. In turn, it added to the premise of the rest of the world being savage and in need for Britian’s enlightened rule.

In Zeeshan’s series, the women create a contrast between the physical alterations forced on to some under British rule, while there is an exoticisation of the nakedness of others. The artworks become the concluding chapter to Forgotten Masters, one that is told through the postcolonial artist who is witness of the remnants of British rule still extant.

“Money Provides Culture Inspires” is a year-long social impact programme that began with the opening reception of “Ordinary Letters” at Sanat Initiative in Karachi on July 17, 2020

Published in Dawn, EOS, August 9th, 2020

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