EXHIBITION: QUARANTINE AND INDEPENDENCE

06 Sep 2020

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Between The Lines 6 (2013-2019), Munawar Ali Syed
Between The Lines 6 (2013-2019), Munawar Ali Syed

On Pakistan’s 74th Independence Day, Koel Gallery announced the opening of an online exhibition. Aptly named On the 14th Day, the show is co-curated by Abdullah Syed and Maliha Peracha. It displays the works of 14 Pakistani-born contemporary artists, with each piece adding its own perspective to the exhibition. The online show comes in response to the drastic changes Covid-19 has brought about to the general living environment this year, as well as focuses on a unique connection created between history, independence and the precariousness of today through the number 14.

This number reverberates throughout this exhibition. As a momentous occasion in history, 14th August holds a special place in the hearts of Pakistani citizens. Fourteen million also happens to be the number of displaced people that came to their newly created homelands during the partition of the Subcontinent.

Additionally, for the past several months, this number has taken on a new and bleak denotation. It now becomes the arbiter in deciding one’s fate if they have been afflicted with the coronavirus. It is the number of days one must stay in quarantine without human contact before being accepted back into the public. The curators delve into these layers of significance that the number holds, and bring together a collection of works that address as ideas of connectedness and distance, history and the present, and ultimately what it means to be alive today.

Golden Ratio (2020), Abid Aslam
Golden Ratio (2020), Abid Aslam

Ali Kazim delves into the history of the Indus Valley civilisation. His imagery of broken pottery recalls a time once lost but one that is still connected to Pakistan. In her work, Naima Dadabhoy discusses the meaning of language. The Urdu script blends into the abstract background and appears censored and incomplete. This work draws links to Munawar Ali Syed’s sculpture, where an open book is produced from woven barbed wire. Both appear paradoxical in nature; while they invite you to explore the script, they immediately occlude further interpretation because of the materials used. A commentary emerges of our regional and national dialects and the lack of importance we, as citizens, give it, especially in comparison to the supposedly superior language of English.

Koel Gallery’s online exhibition is a captivating display of multidisciplinary works that address quarantine and freedom, connectedness and isolation, history and the present

Symbols of Pakistan also appear in the exhibition. Abdullah Syed recreates the Pakistan flag devoid of green colour. Here the prominent division in the national flag has disappeared, thereby removing any distinction of a religiously-divided population. Abid Aslam’s piece is also reminiscent of the Pakistan flag, with a white strip appearing on the side. Similar to Syed, the green is replaced with gold and the white stripe, representing the minority population, is unusually thin. Titled ‘Golden Ratio’, which is the mathematical equation for creating the perfect visual, the work glorifies the flag by adorning it with gold but, at the same time, reminds us of the lack of importance minorities are given.

Tazeen Qayyum’s video reminds us of the uncomfortable feeling of being quarantined, while Roohi Ahmed expresses the idea of keeping distance from each other for safety. Ahsan Jamal and Alia Bilgrami paint intricate and dreamlike miniature paintings, discussing the ideas of escapism and departure from our tumultuous present.

Silver Lining Flag Series (2020) Abdullah Syed
Silver Lining Flag Series (2020) Abdullah Syed

The curators paid close attention in selecting artworks that are perpetual and adaptive in meaning. Regardless of their time of creation, each work has found new context within the realm of this exhibition and allows viewers to draw their own conclusions. Koel Gallery’s latest venture into an online display presages of what one can except from the art world in the future.

“On the 14th Day” was opened on August 14, 2020 on Koel Gallery’s official website and will continue till September 29, 2020

Published in Dawn, EOS, September 6th, 2020