A Tapestry Of Tales

The act of viewing art has transformed over the last decade, we now have access to virtual tours of international museums, a host of online seminars a

Objects We Behold
Soil to Soul
What is Art? By Leo Tolstoy

The act of viewing art has transformed over the last decade, we now have access to virtual tours of international museums, a host of online seminars and conferences around the world. The trend of purchasing art has shifted from openings and receptions, invitation cards, and red ribbon ceremonies to more fluid digital spaces. Artciti has been practising displaying online art exhibitions since it first launched in 2014. The digital scale allows them to host over 2,900 art pieces from over 390 artists representing Pakistani artists. Their mission is to highlight artists and bring together the community overcoming the limitation of a traditional brick and mortar gallery.


Their recent miniature exhibition is digitally showcasing a group of artists including Gülçin Anmaç, Farrah Mahmood, Syed A Irfan and Hammad Malik on their website. The classical techniques of miniature painting are interpreted differently by each artist bringing modernistic visual language into the ancient practice. The colours are meticulously drafted into each piece allowing the viewer to enjoy their details. Electronic viewership provides the ability to individually zoom into each artwork something impossible to evaluate when viewing art in person. The linework is disciplined and the rendering of paint is gentle and seamless creating a smooth surface associated with miniature painting. 


The series of paintings by Anmaç have two distinct environments, the community tableau in “Mother earth and fertility” shows a family in a villager setting picking apples. Their faces are joyful and relaxed. The body language of the women is loving and there is an enjoyable simplicity in their clothing and baskets, Anmaç is celebrating the way of life of the matriarchal farming family. Miniature traditions are known to highlight the power and courtly stoicism of men but here the artist is choosing to focus on the lives of rural farming women that can be read as independent and free from male dominance. Her painterly rendition feels personal bringing in elements of subtle abstraction that creates a colourful story around the figures. The painting “Migration” shows a group of male travellers on the open road, some of these men appear to be in service of a nobleman riding with a young boy on a camel. The clouds in the painting appear to be in motion following the caravan as they make their way to their final destination. We have grown up with numerous folk tales that begin with a group on an adventure together on the road, in this case perhaps for a new home. A hopeful message comes across Anmaç’s paintings as the colours are soft and romantic. 


The contribution of Mahmood to the development of art education has been through her various roles that include Chairperson and Associate Professor at the Department of Art and

Design, COMSATS University (CUI) in Islamabad Campus. She has mobilised young artists to actively practice exhibiting their work in the university art gallery while pursuing her studio practice. Her expertise in miniature painting has won her  “Winner of Imagining our Future Together” organized by the World Bank and has extensively travelled exhibiting her work all over the world. Bringing together powerful elements of calligraphy, miniature and modernistic geometry, Mahmood creates highly introspective pieces where she shares her personal experiences. Her series “In the name of Honor” has slashes of dark hues with strong commentary on society that is rife with power struggles and abuse towards women. In “Metamorphosis of life” she plays with the scale of objects to create an otherworldly atmosphere that resembles a dream or a subconscious vision. The textures are deliberately spread all over the painting to create an erratic movement that is tense and dramatic. Mahmood can create elaborate environments that are completely from her understanding of her surroundings taking from her memories of a place to create modern miniature pieces like “Landscape”.  


The subcontinent is rich with diverse miniature traditions, Irfan’s interpretation of the classical royal “darbar” portraiture freely takes key elements of Mughal painting while maintaining his own autonomous and modern understanding of the tradition. The painting “Mughal Emperor Jahangir” leaves the viewer guessing what exactly is the Emperor holding in his hand in the middle of an empty field. These lighthearted interpretations are what place Irfan’s compositions in the present day. In “Hunting Tiger” the charging hunters are captured in the exact moment of overpowering a powerful tiger while riding a large elephant. The story of victory and power with a backdrop of a large fort in the background. These paintings feel part of a larger story about that particular era revisited through the lens of the artist. Irfan moves on to other emperors traversing through each royal reign with “Shah Jahan with Three Sons” he captures the generation legacy of the Emperor. The paintings showcase the opulence of the time in the details of the clothing and embellishments. 


The quirky wit and commentary of Malik’s paintings are evident where we see a cannon with an enormous Mughal turban or the rustic manual meat mincer with another delicately painted Mughal turban. He plays with the scale and composition of these various objects offering the viewer an alternative perspective. The illustrative quality of the paintings is deliberate without losing the visual symbolism of miniature painting traditions. Malik is challenging the viewer to create their associations creating an open debate that highlights social dynamics of the past and present. The distortions are disturbing with paintings that depict a leg with two feet with “ghungroo” strapped as if captured in motion by the artist. These works have a psychological depth with wide painterly washes that are purposely left unfinished. The white background creates a stark contrast that allows the central image to be the focus of the narrative. In “Lizard and the portrait” we come face to face with what could be read as a self-portrait of the artist staring at an oddly coloured lizard in the foreground. The reptilian brain is often understood as automatic and primal, here we see the artist wearing an expression of curiosity and amazement that is playful and childlike.


All the artists in the showcase are immersed in a long term commitment to contemporary miniature painting that allows them to create their personalised interpretation of the classical tradition. They have a strong grasp over their medium and can communicate complex stories, narratives and ideas that allow the viewer to fully enter into their paintings and explore their meanings for themselves. 


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