Sisyphus in Plexiglas

Published April 15, 2021
Some of the artworks displayed in the exhibition.—White Star
Some of the artworks displayed in the exhibition.—White Star

KARACHI: Very few mythological characters have impacted the lives and works of the artist community the way Sisyphus has. Before telling his story to the uninitiated, here’s the context of this introduction. An exhibition of Suleman Faisal’s artworks titled Orange Sisyphus is under way at the Canvas Art Gallery. It is the ‘culmination’ of the Vasl-Khurram Kasim Art Foundation Research Grant that the artist received in 2020.

Now the story of Sisyphus: he is a character from Greek mythology who gets punished by the gods for cheating death twice. The punishment that is meted out to him is of a unique nature — he has to roll a giant stone up a mountain, bring it down and keep doing it ceaselessly. This myth to a large extent was popularised, as far as the modern world is concerned, by novelist Albert Camus. He wrote a very incisive essay in the early 1940s on the character, juxtaposing his struggle with existentialist crises.

The most interesting aspect of the show is the medium — Plexiglas — that Faisal has used to interpret the famous story in a pretty unique style. Yes, in a way here the medium has become the message.

Compared to glass, Plexiglas doesn’t readily break. Still, the five letters (glass) themselves suggest a fair degree of fragility. The artist wants to keep both, the fragile and resistant elements of his exhibits, intact. A giveaway is the series called ‘Labour of Love’. The tool that’s at the centre of the piece doesn’t hint but overtly signifies the incessant effort that man has to make in a single lifetime.

Then there’s the colour orange. Its symbolism is multifarious. A couple of examples are: it symbolises endurance; two, the sun is often depicted through this colour. Isn’t that self-explanatory? Perhaps it is; perhaps it is not. Orange is the new colour of struggle.

The exhibition will conclude on April 16.

Published in Dawn, April 15th, 2021

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