EXHIBITION: FIRST STEPS

22 Nov 2020

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11.16, Dua Rabay
11.16, Dua Rabay

At Karachi’s Koel Gallery, Collective Cohesion displays works by 26 artists who have recently graduated from the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture (IVS). Curated by art educator and printmaker Nurayah Sheikh Nabi, Cohesion is a joint project of the 25 women, a single male participant and herself.

As all professions have been hit hard by the pandemic, Pakistani artists have also braved the painful realities of the pandemic. This includes artists in this show, who have struggled to complete their projects in the past few months. Cohesion is thus a forum that desires to purposefully express how the “new normal” has impacted art trajectories of these very emerging artists.

Stylistically, the displayed works offer a multitude of ideas and thematic foci, as they revolve around themes that are personal, about the body, memory, space, time, city life, disability and collective experience.

In ‘11:16’, Dua Rabay engages with perspectival view of furniture through the lens of a differently abled family member. Rabay uses ink on paper to create visuals that draw from her experiences, and urges us to look at everyday life with a sight that is not our own.

Similarly, Warisha Khan places painterly strokes of oil paint in ‘Happy Mother’s Day’, which is a portrait of two women (apparently mother and daughter). Khan messily paints the facial features of the two figures in her canvas, indicative of her struggles with an eye illness.

Dark Illumination, Ayesha Shaikh
Dark Illumination, Ayesha Shaikh

Artworks by 26 recent graduates reveal their individual personalities and their ability to shed light on their transition from the academia to the professional world during the pandemic

Ayesha Shaikh’s ‘Dark Illumination’ is a semi-nude ceramic female figure of 13 inches. Fragments of gold leaf cover the figure’s lower torso and partially the arms, acting as some type of clothing. The black and conspicuously curvy figure is evocative of the figure of the ‘The Earth Mother of Anatolia’ (6,000 BCE, modern day Turkey). Like the physically exaggerated ‘The Earth Mother of Anatolia’, Shaikh’s compelling figure is seated, but in a yoga-like position with a straight back as her left leg covers the right one. The figure slightly raises her head at the viewer and challenges their assumption about her body and skin as it breaks norms that surround the less than ideal female body in art and contemporary society.

Other fascinating works come in the form of melodramatic and monochrome charcoal drawings by Arzoo Binte Azaad and cracked ceramic plates by Aliza Naqvi.

As the curator conceptualises the exhibited artworks by the IVS graduates to be “significant transitions in individual art practices, from academia to the real world”, we know that the trajectory of an emerging artist may slowly unravel in the form of different exhibitions, a process that can take significant time. However, how these works reflect a transition from the academia to the real life in a matter of a year (many participants are very recent graduates) is not easily discernable.

Additionally, while the curatorial statement frames heavily around the effects of the virus, a few works from 2019, when the lockdowns had not hit us yet, are included in the show. This adds to the noticeable gulf between the pandemic centring curatorial vision and the artworks. It makes us ponder if the latter would have been any different in their form and content were they envisioned in an ordinary time devoid of Covid-19.

“Collective Cohesion” is on display at Koel Art Gallery in Karachi from November 10 till November 25, 2020

Published in Dawn, EOS, November 22nd, 2020