In a collaboration with the Vasl Artists’ Association, three Pakistani visual artists reflect on architectural facades and spaces, in the exhibition titled Outside In, Inside Out. Mina Arham visualises dense urban planning (or lack of) in monochrome drawings, while Zahra Asim and Raasmia Minal Haque respond to gender roles in contemporary Pakistani society with painting and sculpture, respectively.
The artists’ styles, such as the integration of product design with art in the sculptures of Haque, stand out as a greater point of interest than the concept behind the works. Thus, the three artists innovatively expand the conversation around materiality, its history and method in the discourse of contemporary Pakistani art.
Lahore-based artist Mina Arham’s crisp architectural drawings of Lahore’s cramped spaces recall the draftsmanship of the late Mughal period master artists Ghulam Ali Khan and Muhammad Yaqub, and their immaculate lines of the Red Fort and Qut’b Minar in Delhi, demonstrating their expertise with perspective.
In the drawing titled ‘WKM-Monument’ (2021), Arham’s pen traces neat vertical minarets that intersect with contrasting horizontal structures of the Wazir Khan Mosque. In ‘WKM-Assessment’ (2021), the architecture is squarely drawn and floats on paper as it balances the composition’s positive and negative space.
‘Dream Homes V’ (2021) is another fine drawing that reveals cramped, multi-storeyed apartments, where the roughly textured walls of the façade precariously support electrical wirings, ropes, laundry and air conditioners, revealing human interaction and behavior around shared physical boundaries.
Three artists investigate how we navigate overcrowded urban spaces, both indoors and outdoors
Zahra Asim’s paintings reveal claustrophobic cooking spaces. For instance, in the work ‘Bawarchi Khana — Aapa Farida’ (2021), Asim plays with visual perspective as the kitchen space bursts with cooking pots and paraphernalia. In ‘Bawarchi Khana — Renukha Singha’ (2021), most of the cramped objects are visible, offering a pragmatic account of how managing tiny and overcrowded spaces can be physically and emotionally draining for women inside the house. (We know that the artist refers specifically to women in this case, since the artworks are titled after women).
Asim’s paintings playfully use patchy paint where semi-realistic, shiny objects reveal textures and materials. The paintings also invoke melancholia and concern for the absent inhabitants inside these interiors.
Karachi-based artist Raasmia Minal Haque creates wooden sculptures that place design in a dialogue with contemporary art. These works complete the vision behind Arham’s prudently drawn outdoors and Asim’s painterly indoors, by aligning material practices from the ‘outside’ with characters from the ‘inside’. Haque creates streamlined pieces with organic shapes, combining shoe-design aesthetics with both manual and machine labour.
Six displayed sculptures are named after kitchen utensils, such as ‘The Belan Chakla — The Rolling Pin’ (2021), and ‘The Hawan Dasta — Mortar and Pestle’ (2021); these works are modelled in oakwood after the form of women’s feet, conceptually highlighting stereotypical gender roles in the domestic spaces.
Scholars and viewers will be interested in Haque’s sculptures as a fascinating fusion of product design and art; they challenge the historical hierarchy that wood may be only squeezed somewhere in between the high-and low-end art materials. In Haque’s sculptures, the materiality of the dark polished oak and its sturdiness meld perfectly with the subject matter. This innovative use of material in contemporary art also provokes investigation into the history of wood as an art medium in Pakistani art.
The works displayed in “Outside In, Inside Out” will leave viewers intellectually curious and thoroughly sated.
“Outside In, Inside Out” was displayed at The Gallery T2F (The Second Floor) in Karachi, between April 2 and 16, 2021
Published in Dawn, EOS, April 25th, 2021