The term love is rather abstract, so much so that deciphering an unequivocal definition can be quite impossible. Though it is often romanticised as such an appealing and beautiful emotion that it must be acquired to achieve happiness, love is actually laden with so much more.
Quddus Mirza, curator of Canvas Gallery’s latest exhibition titled ‘For the Love of Life’, aptly compares love to a croissant. Like the baked good, love is striking, delicious, and delicately rolled up with layers of itself. When new and fresh, it is ethereal, but if left to become stale, it is likely to be discarded.
The exhibition displays the works of two artists, Amna Rahman and Kiran Saleem and, therefore, interprets both bodies of works under the rubric of love. In the case of Rahman, her oil paintings find meaning within the vast ocean around Karachi. The works present themselves as detailed letters of love and, through this fascination with the sea, the artist also picks up on intimate interactions among humans themselves and with the surrounding water.
The paintings stop time, holding on to the momentary joy, relaxation, contentment and comfort of an otherwise mundane setting. Her subjects smile and embrace each other with genuine fondness as the waves ebb and flow in the background. The artist creates an almost utopian, imaginative world, a place of kindness and safety, where everyone is glowing with happiness.
A show brings together two artists’ very different works, showing the many facets of love — warmth and happiness, but also pain, vulnerability and grief
In contrast to the breeziness of Rahman’s paintings, Kiran Saleem paints pieces that convey sombreness and opulence. The series titled ‘History is not Her-Story’ focuses on classical portraits of European women posing with their beloved dogs though, in each painting, the artist makes a conscious effort to remove their faces. Instead, the audience is made aware of the intricacies of the women’s jewellery and clothing, as well as their affection for their pets.
However, as a result of the abrupt removal of their appearances, the underlying notion in each piece is one of dejection. These faceless portraits become metaphors for the lack of importance these women had beyond being anything more than baby-makers and bejewelled trophies. Similar to their tiny animals, these women are vulnerable and silenced which, unfortunately, is not too far removed from the struggles of women in the present day.
The curator couples these seemingly different bodies of work into a single setting as a way of encompassing love and all its messy facets. The reality of love is not just warmth and happiness, as in the case of Rahman’s work, but also pain, vulnerability and grief, as displayed by Saleem. It can appear extravagant, but can also leave you voiceless, and acts as an umbrella for layers of perplexing and distressing emotions.
Through Rahman’s work, the audience is struck with a wave of happiness as it emanates from each canvas, similar to how love first hits. But, upon reaching Saleem’s photorealistic pieces, there is a halt. The emotion evolves now to something more. There is still affection present, as can be seen from each coddled pet, but it takes on a darker turn — one of misery, helplessness, and ache. It becomes a complicated love, one with no happiness, but still a facet of the emotion nonetheless.
‘For the Love of Life’ was exhibited at the Canvas Art Gallery, Karachi from June 21-30, 2022
Published in Dawn, EOS, July 17th, 2022