Behti Hoi (2022) Haniya Ali Athar
Behti Hoi (2022) Haniya Ali Athar

Two young female artists from Lahore recently showcased their prints in an exhibition held at the VM Gallery in Karachi, titled ‘Emblems, Here and Now.’

Amna Suheyl and Haniya Ali Athar are emerging artists who graduated from the National College of Arts in Lahore and majored in printmaking. The two artists capture their individual and communal gender-based experiences in their works. They depict the spaces they inhabit, the objects in their possession, and the familiar faces they encounter, particularly of women around them who they revere.

Haniya Ali Athar’s body of work mainly comprises collagraphs — a technique in which one assembles different textured surfaces to create an image relief, which is then inked and pressed on to paper. Athar depicts found items and utilitarian objects we likely use in our most mundane daily activities. However, the artist presents these objects as alive, sentient and wilful beings. Through her work, Athar explores the material culture of South Asian households.

By depicting these collectables and objects of antiquity or daily use in re-contextualised formats, she traces her family history through material memory. Inanimate objects around us arguably absorb whatever they experienced or witnessed. The muted colour palette alludes to imprints of memories — fragmented and fabricated to present a semi-fictional realm — and the surreal landscapes suggest a state of dream or recollection. Windows and doors oddly open up to nowhere amidst an outdoor setting while an inebriated chair capsizes on its front legs.

Two young artists explore womanhood through printmaking

In another work, a woman perched on a room beam like a gargoyle ominously looks over the threshold that segues into a desolate graveyard. Athar organically stitches together her different experiences, echoing the way we most often recall and remember. It is important to note that the artist creates variable editions, which means she does not produce an exact copy of any of the prints. She reconfigures and rearranges them each time in a different combination to create an entirely new image. It also explains why some motifs and imageries recurrently appear across her works.

Over And Over II (2022), Amna Suheyl
Over And Over II (2022), Amna Suheyl

While Athar focuses on the objects and spaces that built her living environment, Amna Suheyl seeks inspiration from the women around her, particularly the matriarchs of her family. The linocut and dry point-etched prints series display portraits and figures amongst flowers and other elements of nature as metaphorical devices to signify femininity.

Suheyl looks up to these women and presents them as spearheading heroes of camaraderie, optimism and sustenance. She highlights the idea of making connections, absorbing other perspectives as one’s own, and being influenced by casual encounters, not just by employing the process of layering images, but also by choosing to display activities in which the physical and visual nature embodies those very facets.

The communal exercises she focuses on indicate shared experiences of womanhood and female companionship. For instance, in one of her works, multiple hands superimposed on each other weave a scarf in what seems like a group activity.

The idea of knotting and weaving seeps into another piece in which she portrays braided hair and its glorious length. In South Asian domestic cultures, women often braid their sister’s, daughter’s, or granddaughter’s hair, allowing them to have an intimate, candid conversation that bolsters the bond between the two women, which celebrates motherhood and sisterhood. Suheyl weaves the hair with flowers such as the lily, hibiscus and lotus — a primary motif she repeatedly uses in her other works.

In another piece, five women defiantly stand for a group photo, facing the viewer with their arms crossed over their chest. Buoyantly floating flowers obscure their faces. The artwork idealises these women as heroes, where the flower becomes a gendered expression.

Perhaps Amna Suheyls work Bound in Blood best summarises her and Haniya Ali Athar’s vision. Two seemingly dazed women stare at the viewer while a dense cloud pours above them. One leans and rests on the other’s shoulder to seek comfort and solace. The two artists are reflecting on their transition into womanhood and recalling the past experiences that facilitated the process.

The ghostly manifestations in both the artists’ works speak of distant memory that they look back to with solemn remembrance and admiration — a time that once was, which they could only preserve in their minds to carry forth. They acknowledge and appreciate those people and places involved in moulding them into who they have become, especially the cohort of female presence.

‘Emblems, Here and Now’ was exhibited at the VM Art Gallery, Karachi, from August 1-20, 2022

Published in Dawn, EOS, September 25th, 2022

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