Fire is one of the four elements in nature that carries an overtly violent disposition with its ability to cause physical harm and devastation. It is bold, unrelenting and terrifying, yet at the same time it can be nurturing, comforting, cleansing, passionate. This makes it an interesting concept; its complex, dichotomous nature drawing cultures and religions the world over to either worship or fear it.
This becomes the premise of a recent show at Canvas Gallery, Flower of a Blue Flame, where curator Quddus Mirza brings together 11 artists to respond to the concept of fire through their own personal lens, as well as the conceptual premise of their practices.
It becomes fascinating to witness the diversity of perceptions. Some interpretations remain limited to the obvious, such as seeing fire as violent and aggressive, a perception compelled by traumatic personal experiences.
Maisam Hussain’s haunting drawings of walls pockmarked by war and terror display its consequences in shades of dull, murky grey, rendered with graphite and actual gunpowder. These become metaphors for the psychological imprints of trauma from his first-hand experience of growing up in Zeran, Parachinar, amidst gunfire, bomb blasts, death and destruction.
On the other hand, Ramsah Imran, Ahsan Memon, and Ali Shariq approach the subject both directly and indirectly, visually invoking objects that create and sustain the flame, while also playing with the ways in which we perceive reality. While Memon and Imran create lifelike objects to mimic coal and boxes of matches respectively, Ali Shariq creates a time-based installation with two candles and a sheet of glass.
Quddus Mirza brings together a group of artists to respond to the theme of fire through their own unique personal and professional lens
The simplicity of this latter work is spell binding, as one walks around and is suddenly taken aback by the shifting reality, as the burning candle projecting itself on to the glass suddenly vanishes to reveal the unlit candle on the other side. Everyday objects are given new meanings, and two opposites are brought together to become one.
Numair Abbasi looks at fire in terms of passion and sexuality in our modern digital vernacular. He interprets the curatorial premise to further his ongoing investigations on the performative nature of gender, sexuality, relationships and social interactions, laid bare through the ways in which we communicate on the digital plane.
In this regard, he uses visuals of the ‘thirst trap’ — a social media phenomenon meant to entice and lure through sexually explicit imagery, censored with the strategically placed fire emoji. Amna Rehman, on the other hand, uses the admittedly spent metaphor of the phoenix to look at fire as transformational, or perhaps even cleansing or healing. The immortal characteristic of the mythical bird is applied to ‘the fire within’ us all that lives forever and motivates us to change and evolve mentally and emotionally, reborn multiple times as different versions of ourselves within the same lifespan.
In Anusha Ramchand Novlani’s work, we see a spiritual perspective, where the dichotomous nature of fire is realized with some nuance. Novlani talks about the sanctity of fire in the Hindu religion, represented by Agni Devta (God of Fire) and adopted in many rituals, seen both as sustainer and destroyer of life.
Her two works Samsara I and II represent both these characteristics respectively; one depicting life and hope with the lotus flower at its center surrounded by neon light, and the other commemorating the recent Covid-19 deaths in India and subsequent mass cremations on the streets, seen here as stars burning in the night sky.
A curatorial premise that at first seems too simplistic, and perhaps a bit limiting, creates exciting possibilities for works that speak to issues deeper and broader than the primary theme declared at the outset, challenging our expectations, perceptions and intellect, which makes for stimulating and diverse viewing.
‘Flower of a Blue Flame’ was on display at Canvas Gallery from June 1, 2021 till June 10, 2021
Published in Dawn, EOS, June 27th, 2021