Juloos, Marium M. Habib
Juloos, Marium M. Habib

ArtChowk recently hosted four artists from the Neulinge Collective, a project in which “four South Asian artists from Pakistan, Srilanka and India who have come together to debate, discuss and highlight issues that relate to global politics and its impact on women of colour”, in Noor Ahmed’s curated show titled ‘Home Ground’.

The show pays homage to a belonging, one’s belongings and an understanding of where we belong… all through the curious and explorative lens of the self. The theme of the river is dominant and recurrent in the show, alongside each artist’s distinctive rendering of their home.

As I enter, I am overtaken by colour, but not overwhelmed by it. The colours act as a guide in the show. Noor, the curator, carefully organised two rooms through colour in a way that act as a curation of the senses. The first room contains a range of colour as wide as can be found in an artist’s palette, with the second subduing it down to a family of blues, greens and yellows.

There is room lodged for life itself. The pieces in the show interact with its visitors. Marium M. Habib’s Juloos, which speaks of the annual processions of Muharram, witnessed elderly women touch the alam beside the grand Zuljanah that had the words, “YA HUSAYN” imprinted on a striking, red cloth. With the decision to rid the pieces of any protective or decorative barriers such as glass or framing, the show turns them into breathable, performative fabrics. Juloos is chalk pastel on paper that allows one the privilege of spotting the smudging of chalk and the residues of thumbprints.

Four women artists from Pakistan, Sri Lanka and India explore femininity and belonging

In another corner of the room, Chudamani Clowes’ Surprise sways and dances as the air conditioner placed right behind gives it air. The London-based Sri Lankan artist was inspired by a 30-year-old aerogramme that she once received from her mother.

The Unexpected Letter makes use of an old army tent, speaking to the inflatable idea of the homeland that the show aims to uncover. As the aerogramme falls within the same network of the colonially inherited postal service, one wonders of ‘home’ in relation to the Empire and colonial rule. Clowes’ pieces act as totems of memory through lost intervals in time, while still containing within them a sense of special comfort and belonging.

Unexpected Letter, Chudaman Clowes
Unexpected Letter, Chudaman Clowes

Maryam Hina Hasnain’s Blue Print 2.1, 2.2 & 2.3, installed directly in front of a wide window, are living through a climate apocalypse. The monsoon rains that wreaked havoc on the city provide an apt backdrop to the art pieces. The sun shines right through the Blue Prints, and the ink and bleach on the tracing paper come across as the veins of a sickly, old man. The pieces hung horizontally give an illusion of the sacredness of stained glass — slowly soaking light, filtering it and spreading colour to the rest of the room.

The rest of the room sits at peace, like the calm of the river that flows through Divya Sharma’s piece. This is the first time in three years that an Indian artist has showcased her work in Pakistan. Just as the piece has made its way to Pakistan, Divya explores the idea of ‘the migrant’ in her work. Being a diasporic artist, she connects and links the rivers of her roots, the Indus, Ganges and Thames together.

Using oral stories to study river culture, the piece brings to mind the intangibility of home. As one walks through The Shape of Identity, the undoing of threads and the process of folding and unfolding is seen. The bitter reality of the invisible labour of women and People Of Colour (POC) artists is visceral and visible. This is both beautiful and haunting.

As I quickly shift myself through the pieces once more before returning to my own home, I consciously think about the connection between performance and heritage. Can a set of inherited actions be ‘home’? Are there patterns of repetition around me that indicate a sense of belonging? Is this monstrously rainy day one that I inhabit, or one that inhabits me?

I don’t have an answer yet, but what I know is that ‘Home Ground’ gave me a chance to explore this rare, feminocentric show.

‘Home Ground’ was shown at ArtChowk, Karachi, from August 11-25, 2022

Zehra Jabeen Shah is a poet, writer and oral historian from Karachi.

She may be reached on Twitter & Instagram at @zehrajabeenshah

Published in Dawn, EOS, September 4th, 2022

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