Printmaking as an artform is unlike any other; it involves a lengthy, tedious and oddly technical process, which restricts possibilities just enough to create a challenge that motivates innovations, but not enough to pigeonhole the creative process. However, once the artist commits and follows through, multiple copies can be created at the artist’s whim. For these reasons, it’s definitely not for everyone.

In recent years, much like other traditional mediums, printmaking has been waning in popularity, but perhaps more so due to contemporary digital mediums and tools that promise a similar kind of reproducibility without the time-consuming process.

The show ‘Re-examine/Retrace’ at AAN Gandhara Art-Space was thus conceived by Studio R.M. and artist Adeel-uz-Zafar in an attempt to remedy this and “[renew] the investigation of traditional methods and known classical techniques” by steering more artists towards the art form.

“In our visual culture, it is more important than ever to reexamine and retrace the journey from its original source,” read the curatorial statement. “Renewing age-old techniques, and the intrinsic qualities and traditional intimacies in artistic production has created a vibrant visual narrative that makes a difference at this current time of radical change.”

Farhat Ali
Farhat Ali

For this purpose, 25 artists from Lahore and Karachi, already working with traditional mediums such as painting, drawing, and sculpture, were invited to respond to and experiment with printmaking within the context of their current individual practices.

Artists from two cities got together to reexamine the possibilities printmaking holds within their own context

The exhibit itself utilised the space in an interesting way that broke away from the traditional modes of display and brought technique into sharp focus. Divided into seven sections that categorised the works into conceptual themes, each piece was displayed in its raw, unframed glory, placed against dark walls under the ethereal glow of a spotlight, creating a sharp contrast and a striking visual which was a delight to experience.

Some of the artists translated their signature imagery into the technique of printmaking, as seen in the works of Adeel-uz-Zafar, Muhammad Zeeshan, Farhat Ali, Syed Hussain and Madyha Haider, allowing us to look at their work in a new light. Others took this opportunity to respond to the medium through their conceptual lens, to discover new threads and trajectories, finding a new language to further the conversation. That was notable in the work of Ahsan Javaid, Noman Siddiqui, R.M Naeem, Sophia Balagamwala, and Zahid Mayo.

Sophia Balagamwala
Sophia Balagamwala

Muhammad Zeeshan’s work, from the section ‘I Am My Own Woman’, translated his usually brightly hued and whimsical canvas into a quiet blind print, where design is created by forming a depression in the paper, featuring the familiar imagery of a female yogi and a rooster suggestively composed for amusement.

‘Heavenly Creatures’ features Zafar’s bandaged teddy but, instead of scratching directly on to vinyl, the artist reverses the process through relief etching, and gives up some of the meticulous control over the image as the acid is used to etch it, which is then printed and formed through the negative spaces, leaving the white lines of the threads without ink. This furthers the artist’s narrative of revealing and concealing, put forth by his choice of imagery throughout his practice.

The section ‘Conspiracy Theories’ featured multiple works of interest. Ahsan Javaid combines traditional miniature imagery with an illustrative style and contemporary vernacular of the kiss emoji, which engulfs the entire narrative — that seems to hint towards power dynamics and control through contemporary modes of mass communication.

Noman Siddiqui furthered his political satire with an image of a donkey next to an embossed stamp of the Pakistani Government’s population welfare department, urging the audience to draw their own conclusions. While the imagery is vastly different from his brightly coloured sculptures, the style is similarly concise and minimal.

The show fulfilled its aim to revive the art of printmaking by not just bringing printmaking to the audience, but by introducing it to a host of new artists who may have otherwise not considered its possibilities within their context. Therefore, a potential for wider discourse was created.

‘Re-examine/Retrace’ was on display at AAN Gandhara Art-Space from June 10, 2021 till July 10, 2021

Published in Dawn, EOS, July 11th, 2021

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