In a world governed by rules, norms and the relentless pursuit of perfection, Rabeya Jalil’s oeuvre emerges as a breath of fresh air in Pakistan’s contemporary art scene. Her latest exhibition, ‘Between Meaning and Making’ at the Canvas Gallery, Karachi, features an array of paintings with disarmingly childlike images, that challenge our preconceptions of art and creativity.
Throughout art history, artists have sought to tap into the unadulterated creativity of childhood. From the whimsical sketches of Leonardo da Vinci to the playful visions of Joan Miró, the childlike aesthetic has long fascinated artists.
These creators understood that within the simplicity and innocence of a child’s perspective lies a profound source of inspiration. Just as Jalil’s work beckons us today, these artists of the past recognised the power of embracing imperfection and the freedom to make mistakes.
Intentionally childlike and immediately accessible, Jalil’s work serves as a stark contrast to the complexity and ambiguity of the images they represent. It is no small feat to paint like a child when one has grown beyond the innocence of youth.
Rabeya Jalil’s artistic creations are a testament to the freedom of artistic expression and a call to break free from the rigid confines of adulthood
Jalil’s artwork, however, transcends mere technique — it delves deep into the realms of psychology and human experience. Her art invites viewers to explore the uncharted territory of imperfection, emphasising the freedom to make mistakes as a vital part of the creative process.
Isn’t freedom the very essence of art itself? Her paintings demand time and contemplation to fully grasp the depth and diversity of each piece. The images resist easy recognition, often distorted and ambiguous, inviting viewers to engage in a game of visual decipherment.
Over the course of three years, Jalil has meticulously crafted a body of work that offers a rich tapestry of meanings. Among these, 49 Women Painting stands out as a compelling masterpiece. At first glance, the painting appears to be a replication of a single woman, repeated 49 times within small square boxes.
Vibrant layers of colours infuse each figure with a unique personality and one cannot help but stand before it utterly captivated before, inadvertently, starting to spot all the little differences that exist behind each rendition of the woman occupying the canvas.
But the artist’s true triumph lies in challenging the boundaries of replication and perfection within the thematic constraints of the exhibition. Can mark-making truly be replicated to the point where it becomes a commentary on the repetitive nature of artistic practice and the monotony of life itself? Jalil’s 49 Women Painting poses these questions, encouraging us to re-evaluate the routines and patterns that govern our lives.
It encapsulates the ever-evolving relationship between art and the artist, between the creator and the audience, and between the past and the present. In its embrace of childlike wonder, it connects us to the timeless spirit of creativity that has guided artists throughout history.
Jalil’s three-year journey of artistic exploration reveals an evolving thought process and a rich tapestry of ideas. Her willingness to experiment with a variety of methods and techniques is evident and adds to the enjoyment of experiencing her work. Each painting is a testament to her dedication to pushing the boundaries of artistic expression and challenging conventional norms. It is a crossover between representation and abstraction, reflecting the multifaceted nature of paint as both a subject and a medium.
Her creative process is guided by intuition, chance and repetition, leading her to explore the subconscious structures that shape her hand gestures as she marks a two-dimensional surface. Through the act of playing with pigment, mixing and layering colour, making mistakes and embracing the potential for damage, the artist transforms the process of mark-making into the primary content of her work. This constant evolution and unpredictability of outcomes reinforces the idea that art is a living, breathing entity that defies fixed definitions.
Furthermore, Jalil’s work serves as a thought-provoking critique of academically trained aesthetics and formal art education. She challenges preconceived notions of unlearning, questioning established norms of beauty and authenticity within the realm of visual language. Her art seeks to bridge the divide between high and low art, finding common ground in the values of both cultivated and uncultivated taste.
‘Between Meaning and Making’ is a celebration of imperfection, a testament to the freedom of artistic expression and a call to break free from the rigid confines of adulthood. It invites us to rekindle our childlike wonder and rediscover the beauty of embracing the unpredictable, the unpolished and the unrefined. It engages in a conversation which prods us to peer beneath the surface, and to discover the layers of meaning hidden within each canvas.
The artworks on display here are both loud and soft, but they are able to carry profound messages even in their quietude. Jalil’s work is not just a collection of paintings — it is an invitation to embark on the journey of self-discovery and artistic liberation which most of us dread.
‘Between Meaning and Making’ was on display at the Canvas Gallery, Karachi from August 29-September 7, 2023
The writer is a Karachi-based journalist who writes about art and entertainment. She is also a media coordinator for the International Watercolour Society
Published in Dawn, EOS, September 10th, 2023