EXHIBITION: VERDANT CONTEMPLATIONS

Published May 8, 2022
The Politics Of Curation-2
The Politics Of Curation-2

Over 15 years, Art Dubai has proven to be a front-running catalyst in exchanging global perspectives — particularly from the Global South, which includes South, Central and South-East Asia, Latin America and the African continent. It serves as an incubator in art ecology, bringing forth voices not necessarily derived from narratives from the Western lens. Art Dubai has launched the successful careers of many creative professionals, from artists to curators, and galleries, and has collaborated with influential patrons and institutions worldwide.

The 15th edition of Art Dubai, which recently concluded, saw one of the most prestigious international art fairs return to its original location in Madinat Jumeriah, back to its full glory after a hiccup due to the pandemic. The previous instalment of Art Dubai had been postponed from 2020 to 2021 and was held on a much smaller scale. This year’s fair showcased over 100 galleries from 40 countries. It also coincided with the long-running Dubai World Expo, inviting a greater footfall and forming an expansive field to cultivate a greater appreciation of cultural heritage, alongside contemporary art practices.

One of the pioneering art galleries in Pakistan, Canvas Gallery has been a consistent participant in Art Dubai and has been the only Pakistani gallery to take part in this global platform for a long time; a sole representative of contemporary art practices from this region. This year, Canvas Gallery showcased the works of eminent and emerging artist Wardha Shabbir in a solo presentation.

Based in Lahore, Shabbir is a young artist who has achieved great success in the short span of her career. She has previously exhibited her work at various international art fairs in cities such as Dhaka, Istanbul, and Basel. Most notably, she was a shortlisted finalist for the prestigious Jameel Art Prize of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, in 2018.

This year’s Art Dubai saw Canvas Gallery showcasing Wardha Shabbir’s vibrant miniature paintings, enthralling audiences abroad

Wardha Shabbir’s work was situated in the ‘Bawabba’ section of Art Dubai. Translated as ‘gateway’ in Arabic, the section focused on international artists who explored regional concerns in their work. These works curatorially coalesced into forming plural narratives, which eradicated the distinction between Western and non-Western art.

A Light As Green
A Light As Green

Variegated colour fields awaited visitors in the Canvas Gallery booth. Shabbir displayed a series of brightly coloured miniature paintings that combine the traditional sensibility of the pardakht technique (the rendering of details, done at the final stage) from historical miniature painting with contemporary elements such as the inclusion of various geometric shapes.

She constructs abstract architectural facades with exotic foliage. Their scandent stems trail to occupy every inch of the confining space and occasionally spill out of the framed shapes, in some paintings, to encroach the vibrant backgrounds.

Shabbir renders the abundance of flora in a myriad of highly pigmented colours, creating a psychedelic trap that lures viewers to lose direction in the dense veil of the forests. These quaint and surreal paintings unfold a stage that alludes to dreamscapes or trance states. The geometric shapes mimic architectural blueprints, floor plans and 3D modelling. They reinforce that invitation to viewers to traverse within their spaces, in what seems like balconies, corridors, cubicles and stairways.

Shabbir’s work captures her spiritual journey that she calls on viewers to join in. Such wanderings entail the experience of oneness with our surroundings and often grant moments of contemplation, self-reflection and realisation. Shabbir’s ongoing discovery of how she identifies as a woman and a Pakistani becomes even more necessary in a volatile climate that systemically encourages various forms of violence and discrimination against women.

She uses her work to fathom where she posits herself in a place and time when distressful daily news of gender abuse is normalised, only creating a momentary stir. In such a context, the introverted enclosures, brimful with plants and hallucinatory colours, offer a reclusive site to the artist seeking refuge, while making a semblance of reality. These experiences induced a psycho-spiritual body of work that is highly personal and biographical.

The Shadow As Real
The Shadow As Real

The pathway is a recurring concern that Shabbir pursues in her work. She uses references for these from real-life sites she once encountered, and from her subconscious imagination of what she foresees onward. Shabbir travels to the future to anticipate and engineer and revisits the past to confront and reconcile. The therapeutic process enables her to understand herself better. The visits manifest in the shape of kaleidoscopic maps on vasli she can navigate through at will later.

Shabbir’s modernised miniature paintings visually chart pathways of the experienced past and the foreseen future. They also map the future trajectories of a fundamentally traditional practice. She, however, achieves this without desperately trying to preserve the orthodox ways; instead, she evolves them to create something entirely new.

Wardha Shabbir’s solo show was exhibited at the Canvas Gallery booth at Art Dubai from March 9-13, 2022

Published in Dawn, EOS, May 8th, 2022

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