There is a long history and much research into the cathartic effect of art-making, and art as a therapeutic act has long been taken seriously by artists around the globe. Traditionally, catharsis indicates the emotional discharge that accompanies the experience of distressful emotions. Catharsis is what links professional artists to those who occasionally indulge in art as a hobby. However, what is worth speculating about is whether a cathartic moment for the artist during the making stage spills across into an empathetic response from the viewers — a quasi-chain of catharsis.
This inquiry can find its answer in the remarkable works by Rahim Baloch, in his solo show titled ‘Hit me with a Flower’. Held at Chawkandi Art Gallery, the exhibition is curated by esteemed curator and art critic Aasim Akhtar and is a poignant depiction of the human emotions we undergo during catharsis. The large scale miniature paintings are insights into Baloch’s state of mind and how he addresses his loss and grief. He shares the intimate moments of experiencing longing, desire, and nostalgia.
In most of his works, he portrays a sole honeybee isolated and lost in the vast voids. In his other paintings, several bees accompany each other. However, despite sharing the same space within the frame, the bees maintain distance from each other like recluses.
The visuals are Baloch’s introspection, in which the bee becomes a visual metaphor for the self. After all, we are all solitary figures in this world, continually trying to navigate our way around in life by seeking a semblance of the ever-evolving environment. It becomes more apparent whenever we introspect in silence. Part of such unceasing negotiation with the self involves learning to heal time after time from our past traumas and tragedies. Realising that life has to move forth and longing for a future or rueing over the past is only natural and human.
Rahim Baloch’s paintings narrate the universal human experience of navigating grief
In some of the pieces, the bees are congruent with the rhythmic and patterned elements of the visuals. For instance, circling a centralized whirlpool-like shape or idly hovering within the confines of a floral border. In other paintings, they eventually break free, gain agency, and disconnect from the underlying hexagonal grid. In doing so, they disrupt and malleableise the background to accommodate them on their terms.
The bee also becomes a potent reminder of one’s self-worth. Despite being minuscule, it bears the weight of the entire world’s mechanism on its back. It has an indispensable contribution in influencing ecological relationships — the complex, interconnected ecosystems that allow a diverse number of different species to co-exist. Baloch alludes to human potential and resilience. He employs the insect as his subject to boost the morale of his audience.
The artist situates a kneeling, lone male figure in two of the paintings. His silhouette and posture suggest that he is either a preacher or a spiritual devotee. The levitating figure is engrossed in repentance or supplication, which has perceivably lent him a higher level of self-consciousness. He seems at peace despite the surrounding disorder. He seems to have become one with it.
Baloch builds the inconspicuously positioned disciple from meticulously placed individual brushstrokes that lend a light weight to his subject. He seems to have captured the figure who is shedding into fragments just before it dissipates into the realm around him.
The artist echoes this feeling through his recurring depiction of floral motifs, particularly the dandelion. Rendered larger than life, the delicate plant seems either on the verge of explosion or already burst. Like ripples in the water, the dispersed seed-heads spread the vestiges of the dandelion’s existence across the surface of the paintings. Through these two imageries, Baloch manages to freeze a fleeting moment. He underscores the unpredictable and ephemeral nature of time, neither of which can humanly be contested or contained.
Baloch delves further into abstraction to illustrate an organic pattern made of deliberately fibrous brushwork. The organic forms resemble cellular structures, saturated with multiple nerve endings — almost like a microscopic image magnified twenty-fold. He focuses on the void and fractures between these filaments.
Baloch denotes an illusory sense of kineticism to these pieces. The ostensibly fluid and fragile surfaces undergo the continuous motion of warping, stretching, and rupturing. The visuals become vignettes into the biological nervous system. They capture the brain’s electrical symphony that, despite the turbulence and strenuousness, remains intact, by quite literally a fibril.
Baloch considers his practice to be highly therapeutic and intersects his grief with his art. The solemn and sincere works make one wonder how we endure and work through experiences and emotions that life delivers without succumbing to them, without letting them overpower us and cloud our perception of life.
Anchoring his body of work in times of personal adversities, Baloch reinforces the astonishing human capacity to stand unsubdued in the wake of tragic shifts in personal life circumstances.
‘Hit me with a flower’ was on display at the Chawkandi Art Gallery in Karachi from July 27, 2021 to August 05, 2021
Published in Dawn, EOS, August 8th, 2021
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