EXHIBITION: HOME, CITY, WORLD

Published April 7, 2024
Thumbtack, Sami Siddiqui
Thumbtack, Sami Siddiqui

The transformation of the ordinary into the extraordinary is the one promise that art consistently makes to the viewer. Curator and teacher Nurayah Sheikh Nabi reiterated this promise in her curatorial statement for the exhibition ‘Ode to the Ordinary — Uncommon Dialogues,’ by stating that the show “transforms the mundane into the magnificent.”

Nabi was describing the work of 17 artists who graduated from the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture last year, and whose work went on show at Koel Gallery on March 7, 2024.

Whereas it was expected that a diverse range of mediums and styles would be on display, the standout feature in the show was the maturity of introspection shown by each artist, as reflected in their statements. Moreover, the thought process expressed in the statements was translated skilfully into artwork. The broad themes the works could be divided into included the incubatory home environment, the city as stimulus and chaos, issues of climate change, myth and archetype.

The work of eight women artists concerned themes emanating from the idea of ‘home’. Ahwar Nasir translated memory and emotion into delicate embroideries on muslin. She had experienced multiple relocations with her family and this transience was embodied in the diaphanous texture of muslin. Ahwar’s grandfather had been a cloth merchant, and the materiality of cloth and thread embodies biographical memory for her.

A group show at a commercial gallery by the Indus Valley School’s Fine Arts Class of 2023 blurred the lines between the ordinary and the extraordinary

In another biographical work, Iman Ahmed used the floral motifs of the carpet in an image transfer on woodcut. The carpets and upholstery that belonged to her father were translated in her work as metaphors of grief.

Untitled 2023, Maira Husain
Untitled 2023, Maira Husain

Zoha Masood considered the burden of continuity that family heirlooms bestow on succeeding generations. Her oil on canvas paintings of objects such as a transistor radio and a toaster form a very personal dialogue with the past, and painting them gives her agency.

Alizeh Afzal and Maham Qureshi collaborated on a performance project that went deep into the home, by highlighting the intimacy of the bathroom. Over the course of a year, the duo explored the dynamics of space and boundary, of friendship and sharing, and of accessibility. They documented their project in the form of a zine titled Notes from Her Bathroom.

Conversely, Ayla Nusrat Farook’s take on being in someone else’s home space was deeply and disturbingly psychological. She expressed the turmoil of entrapment in her colourful abstractions in acrylic on canvas, which belied the discomfort and darkness that she perceived being enveloped in by oppressive walls.

Javeria Aziz’s lenticular print with concertina folds was an imaginative narratology on the influence of upbringing. The sharp folds of the print corresponded to what Javeria sees as the impact of control and conditioning that the domestic environment imposes on individual growth.

Kainat Waseem looked at patriarchy and the undervaluing of women’s domestic labour within the home environment in her acrylic on canvas paintings. Through deliberate strokes of the brush, she attempts to reinstate the importance of women’s labour in sustaining a nurturing home.

Untitled 2023, Syeda Yumna Fatima
Untitled 2023, Syeda Yumna Fatima

Stepping outside the home and into the public sphere of the city were works by Ayesha Jamal, Hamda Imran, Maira Husain and Tahura Kamran.

Ayesha Jamal took inspiration from a ubiquitous object in the city, namely pipes, that her senses are honed to notice for their unique shapes. Ayesha attributed beauty to them by rendering them into subjects of art in a variety of media. Thus, she elevated the ordinary into the extraordinary.

Hamda Imran used video animation to capture the idea of transition in the city. She reflected on the city commute as the liminal zone between metropolitan bustle and the restfulness of home. The multiple changes of locale create a collage of visual sensations.

Maira Husain scours bazaars for discarded objects that she shapes into hybrid, sculptural forms. She describes her quirky sculptures as “characters” that may belong to a street performance or the dynamics of protest. In a sense, she is giving a subversive voice to her characters, as they have unique identities and challenge conformity.

Tahura Kamran explored transience in the city through the lens of time rather than space or object. In surreal mixed media renderings of trees and hedges, she suggested the liminal times of dawn and dusk, where light and shadow are momentarily in magical equilibrium.

Untitled 2023, Ayla Nusrat Farook
Untitled 2023, Ayla Nusrat Farook

Samina Hassan Laghari and Syeda Yumna Fatima stepped outside the city to examine the degradation of landscape through climate change and human agency. Laghari works with digital photography to record the devastation of her ancestral village by floods and ecological displacement. Yumna uses shattered frames to evoke the denudation of landscape in the Northern Areas, by indiscriminate development that destroys trees.

With humour and curiosity, Sami Siddiqui interrogated the notion of functionality, by crafting enlarged models of the common push pin and the desk bell. The dramatic scalar change forces the now-dwarfed viewer to gaze at the objects from a Lilliputian viewpoint.

Manoj Kumar Khatri and Sadia Zia referenced ancient sources in their work. Khatri looks at Hindu mythological texts and fills in the missing spatial context within which the myths were set. Through site and archival research, he translates geographically relevant motifs into visuals on paper and embroidery.

Sadia Zia underscored the overlooked strength of women by crafting tiny, polymer clay female forms. The figures have stylistic continuity with ancient Venus figurines, such as the ones found at Mehrgarh. Primal female energy links with contemporary discourse in her work.

By exhibiting their work outside the controlled campus environment and within a commercial gallery, the 17 emerging artists underwent their own transformative rite of passage, from being students to becoming independent artists.

‘Ode to the Ordinary — Uncommon Dialogues’ was on display at Koel Gallery, Karachi from March 7-April 3, 2024

The writer is an independent researcher, writer, art critic and curator based in Karachi

Published in Dawn, EOS, April 7th, 2024

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