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Art mart: Showcasing graduate art

January 31, 2010

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Facilitating the hunt for the fresh and the new in art, VM Gallery's 'Emerging talent' exhibition in Karachi, comprising selected artworks of the end-of-year degree shows, has been attracting audience interest since its inception eight years ago. Essentially an extravaganza of handpicked graduate art, the show is an ideal opportunity for visitors to discover the next generation of budding artists.

Intended to give early career artists who show exceptional promise the occasion to present their work to art enthusiasts in a reputable and established gallery venue the programme projects new art to advantage. This simplifies the viewing and selecting exercise for viewers/buyers enabling them to purchase work by interesting young artists at reasonable prices. The alternative is to scout a large number of degree shows nationwide, which is arduous and time-consuming.

Among the exciting new discoveries in this year's exhibition was a sculpture collection by Nausheen Iqbal of Karachi University. Decidedly the star of the show, the assortment was composed entirely of discarded mechanical parts/cast offs so profuse in an age of rapidly changing technology. Categorised as welded constructions the sculptures were assembled out of computer motherboard constituents like chips and wired segments, components of wrist watches, alarm clocks, fountain pens, flat keys, pins, levers and penknife blades. The made objects included a variety of pistols, revolvers and small guns, various categories of exotic or mythical birds and above all a charming congress of miniature profiles of royalty in full regalia and on horseback. Possessing the finesse and intricacy of miniature art the works were an ode to mechanical waste.

Yet another novel and aesthetically pleasing piece of art was by Rahela Abro also from Karachi University. Rebelling against the claustrophobia caused by over populated, ill-planned concrete jungles that our urban cities have become, she tried to induce an idyllic environment. Centralising on the ordinary postage stamp and singing birds as a symbol of travelling towards greener pastures she had painted a series of mini stamps in gouache on vasli. However, experiment within the miniature genre by Hunerkada students Abid Aslam and Fakhra Batool conformed to the neo miniature variety that has been in circulation for the last few years.

The theory of provincial unity was well presented by Ali Haider Kazmi in his sculptural installation of the Pakistani flag resting on four pillars shaped as four human busts/ statues. Likewise, Bilal Latif's rope sculpture voicing the complex human condition was well put too. Young artist Tabassum Naz commented on restriction and repression through the zippered effect. She had painted a zip as a constricting agent and constructed its undone form, with its teeth falling out, in wood. All three artists belong to the Karachi School of Art (KSA) where the sculptural tradition has always been strong but in today's postmodern climate the genre enjoys considerable latitude regarding innovation, materials and workmanship abilities that are being put to use by only a small percentage of artists.

Drawing and painting have a building block status in art academics and one expects a certain amount of proficiency in these genres from graduates who take it up as their major. Compositions in oil or acrylic on canvas have always been an 'Emerging talent' staple but there was a depreciation in the strength and quality of work in this show. Brushwork was lax and not enough attention was lavished on detail and in some cases concepts were not entirely resolved.

Punjab University graduates have generally excelled in painting and sole entrant Saba Javaid tried to uphold the tradition with her 'Suffocation' and 'Insecure' compositions. The works were fairly well executed and in tandem with her premise resting on anxiety overload. Some paintings that impacted the eye instantly had capitalised on pictorial presence or textural dexterity. A self-portrait with a pet iguana lizard by Naureen Aslam from Karachi School of Art, was a case in point. Large canvases by Maroofa Khan of CIAC centralising on terrorism and the diminishing value of human existence were convincing but came across as cautious and tentative attempts. She seems to be an artist with potential and it would be interesting to monitor her progress.

A pastel on canvas effort, 'Gaia' by Dua Abbas of the National College of Art, (NCA), Lahore, mimicked the wash technique of watercolour and spoke of new technical possibilities with media other than oil or acrylic. Yet another intriguing painterly exercise was 'Travel mate' by Madiha Sikander. An old airline boarding pass was inserted in a volume as a book mark. The novelty lay in the realistic painted rendition of the boarding pass onto the page of the book which gave the impression of a physical fragment of the electronically printed clearance card.

Line drawing found favour with S.M. Raza of Karachi University. His panel 'Mind-less' was a rhythmic overlap of headless and amputated bodies, as aggressors and victims, that portrayed the violence and trauma so prevalent in our lives today.

Mix media and technology reliant art is the new mantra worldwide and our young generation artists are suitably smitten by the genres that come under this umbrella. Inscapes detailing the anomalies of the subconscious were well rendered in digital prints by Saba Qureshi of the NCA though one expected deeper physical and mental engagement from Bin Qullanders lenticular prints. Works by Beaconhouse National University, (BNU), Lahore, graduates like Zikra Baloch, Hasan Mujtaba, Mahgul Anah and Rabia Aijaz spelled an awareness of the new and the progressive but the knowledge has yet to be correlated with original and significant concepts.

Participants from hinterland art colleges and universities of Bahawalpur, Multan, Hyderabad and Quetta can either be part of the mainstream art flow by producing competitive work or distinguish themselves with a marked reference to the vernacular. In the current show only a few entries by artists from Balochistan University like Abid Rodhi, Khuda-e-Rahim and Zaman Baloch carried some regional flavor. A lackadaisical turnout makes one wonder at the efficacy of art colleges in these regions.

As an assortment of several expressions, styles, ideas and objects 'Emerging talent' exudes considerable energy and other than indexing current generation mindsets and attitudes there is entertainment value in its pictorial and chromatic arrangements.

1) Mehreen Hashmi, Acrylic on plexiglass sheet
2) Zohaib Hassan, Oil on canvas
3) Saba Qureshi, Pen on board