Moeen Faruqi’s newest paintings, which were recently displayed at the Canvas Gallery, Karachi, in an exhibition titled ‘Continuum’, took the viewer down the signature pathways of displacement and ambiguity that Faruqi has inhabited for the last 30 years.
The artist, both as a storyteller and as a protagonist, revisits spaces in his imagined and lived experience. These are familiar scenarios, often populated by people who appear to inhabit unrelated worlds. According to Faruqi, the characters that frequent his compositions appear unexpectedly and without a conscious effort on his part.
Connections can be drawn between Faruqi’s art and the writings of Milan Kundera, Franz Kafka, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Mohsin Hamid, and the art of Max Beckmann and Anwar Saeed. Hence, Faruqi’s fantastical compositions cross the boundaries of cultural and political context.
Kundera once wrote, “Man is separated from the past by two forces that go instantly to work and cooperate: the force of forgetting (which erases) and the force of memory (which transforms).” Within this wider framework, Faruqi’s imagery and imagination slips from one reality to another, where the past and the future seem to co-exist.
Mooen Faruqi’s latest exhibition served as a continuum of ideas deeply rooted in his own life, family history and artistic journey
There is a strong sense of recall and an insistence on revisiting spaces from the past, such as his family house on Jamshed Road in an older part of Karachi. This is where Faruqi’s family settled after migration from India and where his mother, Mariam Jaffer, set up teaching facilities for children in the locality. Faruqi utilised these architectural elements to form the structures of his compositions.
The obvious ones, such as the chequered black and white marble tiles, have continued to appear throughout his work like age-old companions, the memory of which must hold much more significance for him beyond just the design elements. Memories, part dream and part fantasy, seem to inhabit his paintings. Faruqi allows a conversation between the private and the public life in his work, thus providing a glimpse into multiple realities and scenarios.
In Kundera’s Book of Laughter and Forgetting, several of the sections have the same titles, suggesting that the novel has a series of variations on a set of themes. There is a similar structure in Faruqi’s narrative, which is why he prefers to call these paintings ‘works in process’. He himself appeared in these works in the form of his favorite artist, Beckmann, the German Expressionist.
The character appears so frequently and bears such a strong resemblance to Faruqi that one assumes the narrative on the canvas to be autobiographical. However, the visible exterior aside, this could also represent anyone from the artist’s life, including the viewer.
Birds, cats, dogs and fish have long been part of Faruqi’s discourse as onlookers to discomforting scenarios. For his new compositions, Faruqi looks to animals in Gothic paintings, which are as important as the human characters. The parameters of discourse are not fixed in Faruqi’s work, yet he always reverts to the same spaces and ideas. The layers of paint, with the underpainting showing through, are witness to the artist’s process.
Faruqi’s art has always reminded me of a yearning to uncover a truth and a freedom from the adherence to any preconceived rules. His art could be about, what VS Naipaul calls, “Half-made societies in which the impossibly old struggles against the appallingly new, in which the private anguishes are somehow made more garish and extreme, where centuries of wealth and power have formed a thick layer over the surface of what’s really going on. In the words of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and in the world he describes, impossible things happen constantly, and quite plausibly, and out in the open, under the midday sun.”
The painted image, especially in which viewers can identify their own psychological state, is perhaps the best mirror for a society in transition. Faruqi excels at this because his paintings are places where contradictions co-exist, and where angst and joy reside side by side, much like home.
‘Continuum’ was on display at Canvas Gallery, Karachi from April 25-May 4, 2023
Published in Dawn, EOS, May 14th, 2023
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