‘1 x 1’ was a travelling exhibition featuring 53 artists and showcased work which fit into a 1×1 foot margin set by co-curators, Zara Sajid and Scheherazade Junejo. The first half of the exhibition was shown at the AQS gallery in Islamabad. The show opened on February 7th, 2019 and was later set to travel to Karachi on February 22nd, 2019, to Full Circle gallery in Karachi. Zara and Scheherazade collected a total of 53 artists for the exhibition. Hence, the 53 artists were called upon to make two pieces of 1×1 foot for the travelling show. The pieces were eclectic, comprehensive and well thought out and a few that really good out.
There were 53 works exhibited in both Islamabad and then Karachi and the curators should be highly commended for the level of dedication they set to pull out such a grand feat. For the premise of this exhibition, artists were allowed to explore their wide range of themes and medium but within the 1×1 foot mark. This meant that each artist had the choice to explore a certain element in their orevue or challenge themselves to compact their ideas into a limiting space. This resulting in a wide range of paintings with each harmoniously blending into the other, while at the same time, bringing together a wide range of contemporary artists together, thereby, giving a audience a holistic sense of the Pakistani art scene today.
Amna Suheyl’s print, “Ancestral 1” was a very expressive piece. It spoke about displacement and a lost homeland. Her portrayal of women in this piece spoke volumes in making the viewer empathise with trauma and violent emotions. Although she explains her women of having “Sinister femininity”, her women are very real in their characteristic depiction. The women have a strong presence and portray a sense of loss, and lack the usage of the most basic printing technique of line etching and aquatint. Her work pays an homage to hearing tales of a lost homeland as her mother migrated from Dhaka in the riots of 1971. Amna’s work deals with the word a Welsh word “Hiraeth” which means longing and homesickness and Bengali word “Smriti” which means memory.
Annem Zaidi’ s work was instinctual, spontaneous and nostalgic in its depiction. She depicted her five month old daughter’s frock in painstaking detail, with an effort to make the fabric look as realistic as possible. Her painting technique was inspired by the old masters. The fabric is opulent. The frock has a ghostly and nostalgic quality similar to old pictures found in dusty attics of bygone days. It is a mother’s pleasant homage to her daughter through something as mundane as an her everyday frock. There is a sense of longing as the child is removed from her possession. Zaidi’s work seems to capture about a longing for the child and a happiness for her.
Ayesha Naveed’s oil painting titled ‘Ignorance is a Bliss’ was an ambitious piece that was very successful. She dealt with fabrics and figures in repose which is a subject often used but Ayesha has dealt with it in a manner which gave it its own characteristics. The fabric and the figures were dealt with in a realistic way and it is this along with the compositional juxtaposition which makes the painting stand out . Naveed talks about how mundane objects start being associated with people and their traits. It deals with how the human presence is captured without the use of the body.
Faizan Riedenger’s image titled “Anarchiac” in pen and ink is visually very therapeutic. Its painstaking depiction of text in a spontaneous composition and is open to all sorts of interpretation. The artist explains that there is no logical method to it. It purely deals with visual texture and meditation that comes when one has a visual encounter with the same repetitive pattern. Riedenger’s work is beautiful as its simple.
Fatima Jafri’s pen and ink creation titled ‘Kaleidoscope” is all about geometrical abstraction, linear, circular motions and Tibetan Mandela. The artist tries to create a fluid sensation which in
turn creates meditative quality for the viewer. What is remarkable about Jafri’s work is its aesthetically appeal and strong sense of spontaneity. Her paintings are in visual harmony.
Fatima Nadeem image catches the viewer off guard with its bold display of intimacy. Even though the artist maintains that her work is a recollection people met and their interaction is embedded in the painting, the piece seems to go further in depicting intimacy and sexuality, for example, through the juxtaposition of lacy lingerie along with a red rose. Although the usage of lace and roses are cliche elements, the juxtaposition of all the elements in a clever manner makes it unusual. The viewer is caught off guard not only because of the elements but the execution of these elements. Nadeem’s piece is as daring as it is innovative
Irfan Gul Dahri’s work titled “ Bunny Stories” is surreal and has a morbid quality to it. The subjects that Gul deals with are fantastical creatures with human and non-human attributes which, gives them a hybrid form. As the artist says “I am anthropomorphising ideas and stories dwelling between realm of perceived existence and fantasy”. His work probably deals with how children perceive bunnies and animals such like in clouds and tree trunk barks etc. There is a very solemn touch to the subjects which, are supposed to be associated with children, like the bunny stuffed toy the artist has depicted. It is this amalgamation of solemn, gentle and fuzzy childhood elements such as the depicted stuff toy which makes the piece so intriguing.
Komal Shahid Khan is a miniaturist and what strikes one the most about her work is the artists sense of beauty. Her work is beautiful not only because of her immense skill and attention to detail but her compositional sense is also particularly sophisticated. Merging of traditional and modern elements of miniature makes her work comprehensive and narrates a well rounded understanding of concepts and thematic study. She uses elephants like knights from Mughal era along with svelte female figures and bowls of gold fish and foliage enmeshed together to make detailed miniature paintings. Her theme revolves around the usage of circle in her recent series and she explains the shape depicts her undefined self pretending to be whole and whirling all over again. I feel it is a sense of intrinsic absence that triggers an urge in the artist that focuses so much on beauty. Khan’s work is melancholic and her themes have a certain sense of poignancy.
Mahrukh Bajwa’s work of mixed media titled “Uncanny Dream” has a very dramatic and theatrical element to it. Although she talks about an individuals introspection and dialogue with ones self in contradiction to the “Other” as the artists states “they operate out of a social fabric with no serious purpose with their flies and absurdities abound”. The artist usage of puppets instead of human figures like quality and the the crude depiction has a strong element of naive art. This adds a dark humour to the whole image. Hence the theatrical element, dark humour and a raw execution of highly characteristic looking puppets result in a very expressionistic and dramatic image. The elements Bajwa uses which are the puppets and adding a fabric like quality depicted through running stitches painted across the whole image give the entire image a very uncanny, bold and dramatic effect.
Saba Tanweer talks about the lack of value given to human life especially during warfare. I think she does this very poignantly and eloquently by showing the backside of picture frames.The lack of character and identity the back of a picture frame is being associated with depicts the lack of human individuality, concern and worth of human life. The title boy on the beach written at the the back of the picture frame is a take on how a young Syrian boy and his family drowned as the tried to reach Europe through a refugee crisis. Her work is a strong statement done in a very comprehensive and a creative manner.
Sanya Hussain’s images which are a combination of paint and photomontages have a very haunting and a ghostly quality to them. The objects appear and dissipate at the same time creating a lyrical harmony. Physicality and absence are well placed paradoxes in the image. Hussain talks about personal spaces and memory long after the physical presence has been removed. How the space characterises the once lived in physical presence. She defines “home” as a personal space characterising the person either living in it or long since been removed to it but lives his personal mark in the defined space.
Sara Aslam Noorani mixed media on paper is very methodical in its chaos. She chooses as she well defines whimsical, fantastical and curious elements that catch the attention of the viewers. The composition is circular and this is one element that adds method to the fantastical madness on the paper. The elements are surreal and the entire ethos of her work is similar to the works of the artist a 19th century Dutch graphic artist who made mathematically inspired woodcuts. Although Sara Aslam uses whimsical elements but their execution and juxtapositions are very sophisticated. The origami paper boats add a nostalgic touch to the whole image. The entire image has a bygone childhood fantasy tales stance to it.
Sarah Mir’s work is striking because of its gestural mark making quality. Mir’s work has a traditional aestheticism carried out in a modern mark making techniques.She chooses typical natural surroundings, congested urban sprawl as well as built environment. Her work talks about the harmony, sound, visual textures these places create. Her work is explorative and has a visual appeal.
Schehehrezade Junejo’s work talks about the devaluation of living things. It depicts a human appendage with man made animal form. Her approach is simplistic yet effective. A foot juxtaposed on an eagle’s skull. The impact is more so because the skull and feet are depicted in black and white with a striking yellow background. The result is an expressive, ominous and a piece filled with foreboding. The element of horror comes in Junejo’s choice of subject and its juxtaposition. The feet placed in an aggressive forceful manner over a dead birds skull reminds one of the Kali mother goddess in Hindu mythology standing victoriously on the corpse her enemies.
Shanzy Subzwari Gouache and pen on printed note titled “Hum Dakhain Gay” is existential with elements of factual and storytelling narrative. She uses Pakistani rupees and incorporates mushrooms in them along with Quaid e Azam’s picture. The element of mushroom brings in mind stories like alice in wonderland and houses of elves and pixies. It is compositionally a very well balanced piece as the written urdu text of childhood stories and poems of Faiz Ahmed Faiz is superimposed by the mushroom Pakistani rupee note. Her work is an amalgamation of existential ideas and struggling for an ideology enmeshed with political deception and ambiguity.
Shiblee Munir is a clever artist. He is tactful and sarcastic at the same time. Belonging to a family of traditional miniaturists.As he explains “I combine traditional miniature with contemporary imagery to create iconic meaning.” in this piece he uses arabic text juxtaposed within an english exclamation word “OH” . As if the piece catches the viewer in surprise and the vice versa. The piece acts like it is apologetic for catching the viewer unaware. The artist talks about the biased belief in modern day society and preconceived notion of what and who we worship. i could be wrong but maybe through this piece the artist might be addressing the warped influence the western world has on traditional beliefs.
Shiraz Malik’ graphite on paper titled “Specimen 003 – the `Chicken prototype 01/07” His work is a homage to those discarded pieces of technology that have been replaced by savvy upgrades tested and proven. His work revolves around as he aptly puts it “animal kingdom technologically reimagined” His work has a vey strong science fictional art quality. The “human” or “emotive” quality to robotic like machines. His work is candid and deals with the fringes human evolution and technological advancement. The chicken depicted has comic quality to it . A harmless animal made intimidating and uncanny by giving it a robotic quality. Shiraz concept is unique and its execution even more interesting.
Suleman Khilji’s work titled “The Man Who Could Have Been King” which is a mixed medium on archival paper depicts a Sikh prince on one side (probably offsprings of Ranjit Singh) and a urban young boy in the picture next to it. It seems to be a historic narrative with a modern urban twist to it. The “what if” talks about the destiny of the same individual on by gone days and the transition when the same individual is put in a modern day urban society. The transition of nobility to a commoner. From a costume of a sikh nobility warrior to an american inspired modern day t shirts and trendy glasses. The background seems to be deliberately obscure with the main focus being the on the individuals and their get up. A strong cultural and historical depiction through the same individual.
Tahira Noreen untitled work has been constructed by precision cutting and pasting on hand toned wasli paper. Her work talks about visual texture inspired by the sights and sounds of traveling. Here traveling encompasses a road trip to an inner awakening or traveling back to time and a reverie. She aptly explains “ I aspire to create voluntary and unstructured linear work which depicts the uninterrupted and natural course of life and the freedom of events.” Her work is abstract and filled with visual, textual and harmonious noise.