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Artmart: Young at art

March 21, 2010

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As a parent source, the Mughal miniature still continues to spawn hybrids. Upsetting previous categorisations the fresh cross breeds, fusions and amalgamations now call for new benchmarks to define quality and content. Multi- and mixed-media art, a later development has now begun to gain ground in recent years and is posing new challenges to the genre. By upping the ante, the miniature can not only elevate its inherent substance, but it can also reassert its presence in this new playground of multiple realities.

Generally, most contemporary miniatures are defined by their emphasis on conventional applications or by their conceptual underpinnings. The newest offerings of 'hybrids' exhibited at the recent Canvas show in Karachi, 'Re—new', was a four-artist initiative with its fair share of inclines either towards tradition or modernity.

For Ahsan Jamal, a 2003 NCA graduate, indulgence in the perfection of small detail and fine technique came across as a primary concern in his collection of miniatures centralising essentially on the 'goat.' Playing with the 'sacrificial lamb' image as a symbolic reference to Prophet Ibrahim's act of faith he has tried to, (what he terms) “create a dialogue between faith and consciousness” and “trigger a dialogue regarding our deteriorating situation.” If the artist is alluding to the current scenario of militancy, jihadist terror, suicide bombings, and martyrdom of the average human as the ultimate victim caught in the crossfire, the reference did not translate into imagery on his vasli.

Various portrayals of innocently attractive goats wearing a string of prayer beads and a focus on the close-up view with meticulous attention to intricate detail, textural nuances and expressions highlights the artists technical expertise to advantage. But this extreme emphasis on the physical, life-like rendering of the goat/lamb image enthralls the viewer only momentarily—the effort and aesthetics to establish the intended context of 'sacrifice,' that he purports in his statement, is missing.

Technical virtuosity was again visibly manifest in Madiha Sikanders artworks, but her attempt to give new life to discarded library books was an engaging idea that was well-supported by the physical presence of the worn out volumes as supports on which the artwork was executed. Life-like portraits and painted images of old photographs, a folded and forgotten epistle, a boarding pass and a dried floral stem transform the frayed, yellowing books into objects of art. Here we see the miniature mannerism redeployed as a two-dimensional rendering on a three-dimensional book surface creating a mélange of album painting, sculpture and realism.

Reductive and abstract artworks in gouache and pencil on vasli by Nerissa Fernandez centralised on barbed wires, thorny tendrils, vortex-like twisters often juxtaposed with dramatic contrasts of light and dark—finely rendered the works spelt conflict, trauma and a desire for peace and calm.

Adept in the technicalities of the miniature, Sumaira Tazeen has run through a gamut of treatments from pictorial to abstruse. Her current preoccupation with ornamental boxes references her earlier commentary on 'Dowry trunks' as a thematic series. Casting a critical eye on the efficacy of extravagant social practices associated with the institution of eastern marriages she creates mock ups of the bridal trunk, its embellished contents and peripherals. Moving into a three-dimensional format, her works, like doll house furniture, are miniature in scale. A radical departure from her delicately rendered works on paper this new stress on the dowry box as a physical entity and the lavish use of gold leaf, zari gota and velvet gives a populist feel to the work. The entire rendition, even though minute in size, lacks the finesse of miniature painting. The novelty of the treatment is short-lived and pales in comparison to the exquisiteness of a miniature.

Possessing a fair amount of working skills, desire and confidence to innovate the artists in this show have played with scale, dimensions, content and painterly treatments. Their results are varied but each has certain strong areas that can be developed to advantage.
—by Salwat Ali

1) Guzishta sai paiwasta, Sumaira Tazeen, gota metal zari wire pigment and gold leaf on vasli
2) The remains of Mehboob Library 1, Madiha Sikandar, mixed media
3) Seeking shelter, part three, Nerissa Fernandez, gouache on vasli