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Artist’s work: Eye for the ordinary

June 30, 2012

Conserving the aesthetics of art based on mundane subjects chosen from the trivialities of daily life can be a daunting task which requires intelligent handling. This genre of work can become an arduous task, particularly tackling its physical nuances, but for the motivated artist, the sheer pleasure of plunging into the challenge of transforming banal subjects into thought-provoking tasteful artifacts, continues to be an exciting adventure.

On a similar note, with an assortment of a dozen artworks in diverse media, internationally acclaimed artist Hamra Abbas, recipient of the Abraaj Capital Art Prize and the Jury Prize at the ninth Sharjah Biennial, is exhibiting at the Canvas Gallery, Karachi.

Abbas, an alumnus of the National College of Arts (NCA) in Lahore and Universität der Künste in Berlin, has developed an impulsive resonance with the roots of tradition and custom that continues to propel her indigenous vision towards the uncharted frontiers of authentic expression. The timbre of the artist’s work reflects her desire to portray traditional themes, folklore and beliefs that may conjure discussion to alleviate the prevalent tacit differences and disagreements within the social gamut. In her consistently evolved works, Abbas has manifested a penchant for expressing ordinary, mundane or, as she puts it, the quotidian facet of the society. It seems that she is always vying to identify, describe and interpret signs and symbols from the content of trivial images and objects.

The set of three auto-painted wood and fibreglass sculptures titled ‘Ride’ in pink, blue and yellow, depicting flying horses with female faces, almost life-sized; beckon the viewer with strong affinity. Perched on wooden platforms shaped like a rocker, the edifices demonstrate a certain tranquility and ephemeral motion. The graceful posture, the impeccable fabrication and the lustrous sheen of these statues stand testament to the artist’s seasoned expression and exquisite workmanship.

Although the sculptures are oversized for the gallery space, nonetheless, their tactical placement effectively neutralises the element of confinement.Under the title, ‘Idols’, Abbas has showcased enlarged prints of seven portraits executed originally in coloured plasticine depicting characters from daily life. The bold assembly of the sculpted heads with casual chunks of coloured plasticine reflects the artist’s spontaneous and intrepid aesthetic traits.

Though it would have been gratifying to see the original pieces, but supposedly the enlarged prints do greater justice to highlight the use of material’s fluid characteristic by the artist. For mounting the photographed artwork, Abbas has used the Diasec process; a method of sandwiching images between plexiglass and dibond, which not only enriches archival properties of the print but also enhances its colour-contrast and details.

Another extraordinary installation that the artist exhibited is based on a large LCD television screen affixed on the wall of a dedicated room, with a cyclic email message being typed into a familiar template of commonly used software. The bland content of the message is a routine conversation that is being fed through the keyboard with natural pauses between audible strokes of the keys. Strangely though, there is a certain empathy attached with this installation as most viewers are expected to be going through similar experiences of trivial emails and messages. Abbas remains triumphant in engaging the visitors through this offbeat mock-up which accentuates her ingenuity to look different: simply odd.

In the wake of her nomadic experiences, Abbas continues to astound her audience with a wide range of subjects that, at times, brush the boundaries of absurdity. For the love of producing distinctive art entwined with compassion, Abbas bears no compunction in devising her own set of rules to carve a peculiar semblance in the contemporary scene, and thus far; it appears that she is gathering unprecedented attention.