It can be argued that humankind’s greatest invention was the creation of text. With the written word, for the first time, humans could document, record and preserve their surroundings in a detailed manner for future generations to study and follow.
It became a means to record history, religion and life, and it is still one of the most powerful tools used today. Artists also create powerful tools of communication through their practice. Their visuals act as vehicles of exchange between viewer and artist.
In an exhibition titled Script by Studio RM at O Art Space Gallery in Lahore, a group of eminent artists have been brought together to explore this idea of communicating through their unique visual languages, while also understanding how text comes into play in the realm of art.
Spirituality becomes a key dialogue through the course of this exhibition. Through his finely rendered paintings, R.M. Naeem contemplates on the five pillars of Islam and juxtaposes the visual with the five holy names of the Prophet’s (PBUH) family, which stand strong and powerful, holstering up the faith, while the background is a barren landscape, perhaps a space that has yet to embrace the mighty religion.
With strong command and skill, Shiblee Munir carves calligraphic text in repetitive notions into a slab of marble. Titled ‘Code Of Obedience’, the work is reminiscent of the tale of Moses and the slab he receives from God.
A group of eminent artists are brought together to explore the idea of communicating through their unique visual languages
In similar cyclical fashion, Shah Abdullah’s paintings study the structure of text and the mysticism it inspires. His work ‘Nuqta’, where a dot is adorned in gold leaf, reminds us of its absolute importance. It is how text, calligraphy and art all begin and how they all end, much like how one would describe God; the Alpha (beginning) and the Omega (end), He includes all that can be.
This ritual to achieve piety can further be witnessed in the meticulous drawings by Meher Afroz titled ‘Kashf’ — which translates to a direct and personal revelation in Sufism. Her circular renderings are resonant with the visuals of whirling dervishes during their journey of transcendence.
Furthermore, circles are important forms in Islamic geometry, where they become symbols of the totality and unity of the universe. Piercing the paper with strands of hair, Rehana Mangi creates a multitude of circles that revolve around each other.
Muhammad Zeeshan’s laser cut butterflies also hint at geometry through their grid-like display and repetitive design. The prominent blue hue of the piece stands out, which in Islam is a colour that refers to mysticism and the unknowable depths of the universe.
Ayaz Johkio also incorporates the colour blue in his painting. The still life of a book placed on the table gives no indication of its contents. But, in the context of the exhibition, one can’t help but associate the colour to its Islamic connotations. Jokhio leaves it to the audience’s imagination, while at the same indicating, through the addition of a bookmark, that the text may have been interesting enough for the reader to have gotten half way through.
Adeel uz Zafar’s ‘Scripture’, which is a handmade book of his prints bound with an ornate cover, displays images of his signature gauze etchings. These act as his visual language to speak to viewers, thereby making this book like a manual for the audience to further understand his oeuvre.
Muhammad Atif Khan uses a multitude of ants in his depiction text. Here they scurry around like moving words, abstract and enticing.
The enigmatic work of Muhammad Ali Talpur captivates the audience as a dried Raig Mahi (sand fish) lies at the base of abstract black lines. Talpur understands language beyond sounds and reconfigures them into abstract images.
Irfan Gul Dahri and Faraz Ali Syed use whimsy and colour, through their surrealistic approaches, to explore sacredness through their own respective practices.
Language and text have evolved and diversified over centuries, becoming imperative to the evolution of humankind. However, if one really looked at text, one would realise that, essentially, it is nothing but the flow of a line to create a visual form that can be understood by a larger audience; much like a drawing or a work of art.
“Script” is a group exhibition which is being held by Studio RM at O Art Space Gallery in Lahore from April 19 to May 10, 2021
Published in Dawn, EOS, May 2nd, 2021