Creative explorations of the idea of home bring to mind kitschy vintage home décor, sporting tired old cliches etched in childhood memories such as, ‘Home is where the heart is’ or ‘A house is made of bricks and stone, but a home is made of love alone’.

These may be sentimental oversimplifications but they hold some truth, and it is these ideas that are explored in more intellectual depth in a recent show, ‘A House Without Walls’, curated by Haseeb Ullah Zafar. The show took place at the T2F gallery, and featured two artists using mundane objects and materials to explore the emotional and nostalgic significance of home.

Zafar brings together Ahsan Memon and Suleman Faisal, two artists working in a shared studio, whose practices intertwine both in terms of themes and materials, yet which result in contrasting displays and unique visual experiences. The artworks focus on championing the object as art, using them to deconstruct and subsequently reconstruct the idea of home, betraying a certain yearning for the past, of what could have been and perhaps might yet be.

Memon’s work is a literal visual deconstruction of the physical space of a home into its individual units, with bits and pieces that reduce a building to its bare essence to be analysed. However, what at first glance seem like found objects turn out to be hyper-realistic replicas created in fibreglass, a mere illusion of reality.

A curated exhibition by two artists explores what it really means to belong

It rather reads as an ode to a lost home, yet we do not see a sentimental display of nostalgic paraphernalia, but industrial materials used in construction discarded and abandoned, now attaining symbolic implications. It reminds one of puzzles with missing pieces, scattered about, never fully coming together, yet hinting at what might have been. Memon commemorates it through these memorials of mundanity. It almost becomes an in-between space where these objects are suspended in time.

The work hits at the idea of belonging through the concept of displacement, which comes from the artist’s own experience of moving around all his life and never really having one lasting childhood home. It makes us question the nature of home, and what makes an amalgamation of bricks and mortar into something so significant.

However, it is difficult to discern the sense of nostalgia that Memon speaks about in his statement in the actual works, which present a view of a house on a very material level, one that does not fully reflect the people, emotions and relationships that create memories attached to the space.

The sense of nostalgia shines through more overtly in the works of Faisal, however, who recreates mundane objects from around his home, once owned by family members, in orange plexiglass. At first glance it seems like these objects are chosen at random and are at odds with each other — some, like the sewing machine, used for creation, while others, like the service revolver, for destruction, some for everyday use, like the stove, while others for comfort and relaxation, like the ceiling fan.

However, all are, in a way, a means to serve and protect. They were used to provide for a family, and were ever-present, creating a sense of stability that the artist derives comfort from. We all have such objects around the home that make it a home. They create the landscape of our everyday lives, our spaces, and they belong to us and, in turn, create a sense of belonging in us. In this way, the implications of Faisal’s work are in direct contrast with those of Memon.

Beyond the philosophical questions surrounding the intangible aspects of home, the show also raises an ontological debate. Everyday banal objects recast as works of art acquire meaning beyond the official established definitions and purposes they hold. Do we give these objects meaning or is it through these objects that our lives and our being acquire meaning?

Or is it both — an endless back and forth process, where the objects that we infuse with meaning in turn come to define us? The show allows for each viewer to uncover their own answers for themselves.

‘A House Without Walls’ was on display at the T2F Gallery in Karachi from June 17-30, 2022

Published in Dawn, EOS, July 31st, 2022

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