A Wanderer’s Archive


A Wanderer’s Archive

Shanzay Subzwari and Shameen Arshad through their distinctive artistic voices, invite the viewers to navigate the intricate language of art The A

Behind the scenes
Drawing From Within
Umar Nawaz – Twisted Narratives

Shanzay Subzwari and Shameen Arshad through their distinctive artistic voices, invite the viewers to navigate the intricate language of art

The Austrian art historian, E.H. Gombrich, once eloquently stated that the study of art would increasingly involve an inquiry into the linguistics of the visual image. This exploration, he believed, would lead to the emergence of iconology, a field investigating the function of images in allegory and symbolism, and their connection to an “invisible world of ideas.” Gombrich’s words laid the foundation for understanding the intricate language of art, a language that often operates beyond the boundaries of grammar and semantics.

Drawing upon influences rooted in Mughal Miniature painting, Sabzwari invites viewers to embark on a journey into a realm of artistic expression seamlessly intertwined with the tapestry of popular culture. Her pictorial spaces serve as conduits for delving into socio-political narratives, as elements from printed currency notes, often associated with financial transactions, form the groundwork for her creative constructions.

Sabzwari’s 2021 exhibition at the Koel Gallery marked an exploration of the post-Covid world’s obscure corners and the shades of darkness it brought forth. It invited contemplation on the altered contours of existence. However, her most recent opus takes a different trajectory, one of nascent origin and burgeoning optimism.

Each visual element meticulously placed in juxtaposition to others contributes to the construction of allegories. These allegories encapsulate the essence of fresh beginnings and the fervent spirit of hope. The lotus unfurls its petals, the phoenix emerges from its ashes, and the butterfly undergoes its metamorphosis—these timeless emblems personify renaissance and renewal, themes that extend beyond their delicate forms. They do not merely traverse personal evolution but explore broader vistas of societal discourse.

This body of work emerges at a poignant moment in the country’s history. Recent developments are seen as epochal, perhaps completely pivotal, marking a time of socio-political collapse with potentially long-lasting and dire consequences. Yet, amid these shadowed reflections, within Sabzwari’s work lies the seed of potential transformation, a testament to the dynamism of human societies.

Shameen Arshad’s work revolves around the intricate concept of identity fluidity, particularly her evolving identity as a “Pakistani” during her sojourns abroad. She explores the complex notions of ownership and belonging that arise from a culture in perpetual motion. The notion of “Pakistani” is presented as a fusion of Eastern and Western influences, resulting in an identity that is tumultuous, decadent, and opulent—a work in progress. Her extensive usage of fabrics as mainstays in her work masterfully articulates this concept.

Arshad’s contemplation of encountering chaos and confusion is achieved through a deep dive into the nation’s tumultuous history, the enduring imprints of colonialism, cultural hegemony, and the echoing reverberations of transgenerational trauma. Drawing from her experiences living in both Pakistan and the UK, her creations take the form of visual narratives that encapsulate layers of time, space, and emotional nuances. These intricate compositions lay bare the fragile state of the present, haunted by the shadows of a turbulent past.

The imagery captures the sensation of existing within the chasm between two realms—a liminal space where one is a resident of nowhere, devoid of the ability to claim any place as home. These visuals serve as windows into the tales and sentiments of a perpetual wanderer, evoking sensations of detachment, longing, uncertainty, and a yearning for the bygone glory of one’s homeland. Arshad borrows from Welsh culture, using the term “Hiraeth,” denoting nostalgic yearning for a cherished past left behind.

Apart from the imaginative landscapes they both create, Sabzwari and Arshad share a common thread of enduring painstaking processes. Arshad intricately works with fabrics and embroidery, while Sabzwari rapidly borrows idioms from various sources. Both artists embody Gombrich’s notion that linguistics helps us understand “the function of images in allegory and symbolism and their reference to what might be called the ‘invisible world of ideas.'”

Shanzay Sabzwari and Shameen Arshad, through their distinctive artistic voices, invite us to navigate the intricate language of art. Sabzwari’s work embodies hope and transformation, while Arshad’s exploration revolves around identity and belonging. Both artists delve into the complexities of our world, drawing inspiration from their experiences, histories, and the ever-evolving human condition. Their works resonate as windows into the rich tapestry of contemporary art, reminding us that art is a dynamic language that speaks to the essence of the human experience.


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