In the last few years, many art galleries in Islamabad have been forced to either close down, hibernate, or relocate due to the enforcement of the Capital Development Authorities law against commercial activity in residential areas. In the recent past, there has been a rise in artist-run art spaces, events, residencies and centres opening all over Pakistan. 12.0 Contemporary, the latest addition to art spaces found in Islamabad and Rawalpindi, is located on the ancient trading route of the subcontinent, known to us as the Grand Truck Road (GT Road). For those who do not know this road was made 500 years ago to connect the East to the West and it is only fitting that it now has a space dedicated to art practice and dialogue focusing on the modern South Asian artist of today.
The inaugural exhibition titled “Opinion, Knowledge & Truth: Knowing To Transform” showcased a diverse collection of artworks by ten Pakistani artists. It has been seamlessly curated by the founders of the gallery space Kamran Babrak and Safia Sher. When viewing these works, a plethora of interpretations, associations, overlaps, crossovers, and interconnections are visible. The gallery also aims to be a bastion of conversation as it even hosted a panel discussion with Aasim Akhtar, Amna Ali, Maliha Noorani and Rabeya Jalil on the opening night of the show. 12.0 Contemporary aims to deepen the act of art appreciation by focusing on a theoretical and philosophical understanding of the artistic process. They aim to activate such a practice of viewing through open discussions and engaging an interdisciplinary approach to art, artists, art writing, and curation. The discussion was reflective of the current attitudes towards an artist’s role in wider society, art education and academia, recognition and acclaim of artists in the past, the role of the gallery, along with highlighting important aspects of art writing and curation. What is evident is the fact that these are important conversations that need to be regularly held in order to create a wholesome understanding of modern hybridization of art and thematic curation in Pakistan.
The gallery space was transformed with the works of 12 artists that included Ahsan Masood Kiran Saleem, Mohsin Shafi, Rabeya Jalil, Asif Ahmad, Farazeh Syed, Haider Ali Jan, Momina Muhammad, Qadir Jhatial, Shireen Kamran and Syed Hassan Mujtaba. Each artist, different in their visual narrative and process had varying palettes, compositions, subject matters; nothing was clashing or competing for attention. The viewer was invited to take the time to read and understand each artwork. At first, these works seemed traditional including painting, sculpture or print mediums, but upon closer examination revealed themselves to be experimental and modernistic as painting merged with photography, sculpture with performance art, video art with interactive art, drawing with painting, and nonrepresentational art fused with colour and composition.
The works had varying subjects with compositions that had suggestive figuration, line and form and bold brush strokes. The sensual and psychological representation of the human figure by Masood in the acrylic painting “Zuban Khor” has delicate painterly rendering close to miniature to create a subject whose emotional state is visible through the technique, pose and colour palette. His second piece titled “Hung” is charcoal and dry pastels combination on boxboard creating an otherworldly atmosphere and abstraction of the figure by using only a detailed drawing of a leg hanging alone that anchors the mood of the drawing.
On the other hand, the non-representational work by Mujtaba, Kamran, Muhammad and Jalil showed the viewer a diversity of technique, visual language, and how to interpret colour fields. Abstract expressionist nature and the more statistical minimal linear geometry, both equally deconstruct the picture plane. The intimacy with which these works have been made can be seen in the psychological investigation taking place on the surface, through particular mark-making and brushwork and exploration of scale, line and form. Ahmed and Jathial have created photographic images that have elements of drawing, line and print to create paintings of figures in resting poses.
Shafi’s work is hybrid documentation of his artistic process in “A Chorus of Hollow Souls”, the viewer is shown Shafi sitting with the camera zoomed onto his hands on an old box TV set that has an installation of metallic pendants shaped as little sketchbooks sowed into black thread, Shafi is inviting the viewer into an actual space to join him as there is also a carpet laid out in front of the TV. The emphasis of the exhibition is on the artistic process and a deep understanding of developing a unique pictorial language for creating art. Each artwork had its own spatial sensibility, movement and medium creating a sense of rhythm in the gallery space.
12.0 Contemporary is enabling the artist to display works that are not necessarily commercial. Curators Babrak and Sher are educators and art veterans who deliver lectures, mentor emerging artists and are now ready to invite artists to apply for residencies in their space. Their regular interaction with young artists and academics have led them to create a space that is in itself hybrid & multifaceted, with a gallery to display and view art, and a forum to hold meetings and talks. They strongly encourage qualitative research and investigation of art theory and are showcasing artist-focused works. With the intention to spread awareness and create formalised art discourse around how artists transform their traditional practice into modern, should they so choose? Viewers are able to explore the works of these artists that have taken conventional mediums and through their interesting perceptions and techniques have created a blend of the past, present and future techniques. These works have a narrative and visual appeal that leaves the viewer with much to contemplate.