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Artists` perspectives: The sound of fury

May 30, 2010

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Every now and then an art gallery ventures off the beaten track and indulges in a bit of intellectual whimsy where the art of telling a story is often more important than the story itself—like describing the utter helplessness and hopelessness of both bystander and victim, after a misguided youth propelled by the belief that he was going to heaven by sending his victim to hell, decides to blow himself up.

A number of years ago, focusing on crimes against women, Shehla Rahman, one of the country's four leading contemporary female artists, left an indelible impression on the collective consciousness both in Pakistan and abroad when she documented in her paintings the victims of abuse and terror. After that terrorism and the effect it has had on an unsuspecting populace was tackled by a number of painters.

The latest commentary on this pertinent subject is the display that has just concluded at the KSA Gallery in Karachi in which 10 participants tried to confront the phenomenon of terrorism by exploring the recesses of their fertile minds. Entitled 'Bits and pieces', it focused largely on the horrific attack that took place on the Ashura procession in Karachi on December 28, 2009.

There had been other pernicious attacks in the past on churches, mosques, hotels, bazaars, political and religious processions and state institutions, and in a sense the KSA exhibition was a distillation of the various aggressive assaults that had taken place since 2002.

This reviewer was impressed by the curator Shahana Rajani. She had an instinctive feel for all aspects of the work that had been displayed and spoke with considerable authority. But this reviewer didn't quite share her enthusiasm over some of the exhibits. In fact, the only items on display that really impressed him were the documentary, and the stoneware masks by Fraz Mateen, which were strung together under the title of 'Burnt identity', suggesting, perhaps, the facial disfiguration caused by scorching heat.

The two-and-a-half minute video, which had been culled from TV footage and pieced together by Manizhe Ali, contained the freshly minted terror of the targetted bombing. It is of historical importance and much of its appeal lay in its brevity. The ending is consequential. A crescent of cars, lights blinking in the dark, surrounds Do Talwar in Clifton. In spite of what might happen in the boon docks and the back of beyond—life must go on...

The audio presentation entitled, 'Living room conversation' was far too long and it is doubtful if any visitor would want to be strapped to the earphones for eight-and-a-half minutes. This reviewer pictured a clutch of young girls getting together to discuss the flavour of the month and other sundry matters when somebody took up the issue of the dreadful bombing. The conversation then took a serious turn in English, in Urdu, in English-Urdu, establishing the fact that nobody in this country is comfortable speaking in one language. After the first round of the discussion which was larded with suggestions, implications and allusions, it was time to move on.

There were photographs by Faysal Mujeeb, Hussain Afzal and Shakil Adil which were rather 'newsy' and had no particular distinguishing feature. Two etchings and four canvases in mixed media, screen print, graphite and acrylic on vasli by Romila Kareem adorned one of the walls. They had strong religious undertones. Ammad Tahir's oils on canvas, though childlike, managed to tell a story with brutal frankness, and Aliya Yousuf's embossed foil on grey board which explored the universe of sign language were quite fetching.