An artwork on display.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star
An artwork on display.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star

KARACHI: Artists come from the sensitive segment of society. This is the reason that they cannot detach themselves from the social and political goings-on that impede or augment their country or nation’s growth. The contemporary world we live in doesn’t have a single dull moment when it comes to glocal — meaning, global and local — politics. Oftentimes it has a profound effect on the artist community. Painter Shahid Rassam’s latest exhibition Bandar Nama that can be seen at Sanat Initiative is a powerful example of it.

As can be inferred from the title of the display, the artworks focus on the mammal monkey (bandar). It has many connotations. The first one that springs to mind relates to entertainment. Trickery is also associated with it. Both taken into consideration, one thing’s for sure: it’s an intelligent species. In our part of the world, if you grew up in middle-class localities, you’d have noticed a man holding a monkey with a large rope in one hand and a dugdugi (double-headed drum) in the other. He’d play the dugdugi and order the monkey to dance around or do funny things that the animal was trained to do. (Thankfully, it doesn’t happen anymore.) Among other things, the act was also a symbol of monkeys’ malleable nature.

Rassam has taken the metaphor forward. He writes in the beginning of his statement for the viewer about the exhibition: “Bandar Nama is my artistic viewpoint and a satirical review of a general outlook of the society that we live in. It may have taken millions of years for us to become a human being from an animal but it takes minutes or maybe seconds to become an animal from a human being. In Third World countries like Pakistan, Myanmar and Nigeria, a monster creates a jigsaw puzzle and then offers the solution by the trained monkeys.”

The observation is both true and factual. The artist, as a result, has come up with artworks that are visually vibrant and contextually meaningful. Even a cursory glance at the images that he’s created will allow the viewer to understand the political and social gist of the show.

The exhibition concludes on March 3.

Published in Dawn, February 27th, 2022

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