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Let Them Eat Butterflies opens

May 01, 2013

KARACHI, April 30: Kitsch is generally described as ‘a work of art that is popular but has no or very little artistic worth’. This means: lowbrow art. But modern-day philosophers, especially a couple of novelists, have almost redefined the term. According to them, kitsch is necessary for the ‘categorical agreement with being’. Artist Mohammad Ali’s new series of artworks titled ‘Let Them Eat Butterflies’ that opened at the Canvas Art Gallery on Tuesday are in the artist’s own words kitsch and therefore address issues of class and taste.

The smart thing that Mr Ali has done is that he has made portraits of people that are readily identifiable in the world of glitz and glamour. This begs the question: is he being commendatory or critical? Only analyzing his artworks will provide us with a plausible answer.

The characters, all done in oil on canvas, are known individuals. Before touching on these individuals it is important to understand the butterfly motif, and in this case, symbol. Butterflies in ancient times symbolised the soul. The soul may not be the artist’s focus of attention here, however by introducing the butterflies into some of the frames he is pointing at that side of human existence that is fast fading away: incorruptibility.

‘Dressed to Kill’ belongs to the contemporary world in a brutally honest manner. A young man is holding the severed head of another man in a rather blasé fashion. It is a 21st century violence-prone image. The flowers in the background do not mitigate the scene, they increase its atrociousness.

‘What a Wonderful World’ reminds the viewer of the famous Edvard Munch expressionist piece. Mr Ali’s work is more realistic and kitschy because the face of the protagonist is not deformed. It is the effects of overreaction that the artist is trying to portray.

Another set of paintings highlight a different kind of moral crisis, such as ‘Group Photo’ and ‘Birds of a Feather’. The Veena Malik image in the latter with two other women has a political overtone, but it would be a mistake not to feel the aesthetic undercurrent of the painting.

Conclusion: the exhibition, which will continue until May 9, is both a tribute and a criticism in the garb of kitsch.