A postcolonial nation like Pakistan encompasses the viewpoints and ideologies of various historically marginalized groups, who find a means for self-e
A postcolonial nation like Pakistan encompasses the viewpoints and ideologies of various historically marginalized groups, who find a means for self-expression through art’s emancipatory power. It depicts the present as derived from several historical timelines, highlighting a postmodern tradition characteristic of a society that is in no way homogenous, but rather heterogeneous, with several cultural traditions living together, adapting to the tension between their distinct Indo-Islamic heritage and the contemporary liberal mindset of the neoliberal elites.
The inaugural exhibition by ArtSoch Contemporary, titled ‘Vision Weavers’, reflected this multifaceted, heterogeneous diversity. It spoke to an art practice that was derived from Pakistan’s Muslim South Asian roots and yet was in no way limited to national boundaries. It had 26 established and emerging artists representing a mongrel capitalist nation through individual creative projects, each one engaged in a postcolonial reshaping of selfhood informed by liberal ideologies, while contributing toward Pakistani formal experimentation by its close attention to key analytical categories of place, tradition, and form. The noteworthy names reveal aspects of the future of contemporary art in Pakistan, pioneering a self-referential, postmodern sensibility within the country’s art scene, as spotlighted by curator Mariam Hanif Khan.
Ammar Faiz’s ‘Gharmas Ghori’ deploys considerations of place and time to record and re-examine Pakistani cultural practices, which he then, together with a desire to keep alive their memory, transforms into a discourse on Pakistani postmodernism. Sports becomes a metaphor for simply preserving a foundation of history, a document of people’s reality, their ways and practices, a response to social reality.
Similarly, Rida Fatima and Sana Durrani approach the subject with their multifaceted pieces, drawing attention to issues of spatial decay and social instability. While Fatima creates ironic installations that underscore the transience of urban development, Durrani creates collages of old and abandoned spaces that underscore an artistic urgency to preserve a cultural heritage.
The interplay between cultural tradition and Western modernity is grist to contemporary artists such as Muneeb Ali and Farrukh Adnan. Ali deconstructs the Arabic script to abstract forms, raising questions between its meaning and evolution as shape, finding parallels between Islamic vernacular and aesthetics of Western art practice. Space and place are analyzed on different registers—as a principle of pictorial organization and as location from where histories and memories can be sourced—in the works of Adnan. His graphite structures, made using the medium of pen and ink on canvas, are an intellectual investigation into the country’s physical landscape, and resemble densely woven abstract cosmos of abstracted, archived memory.
Fantasy takes on a cosmic meaning for Romessa Khan, who endeavors to depict the vibration and frequency of thoughts as matter. She uses the language of modernism as a tool to respond to and resist historically imposed artistic standards, such as academic naturalism and miniature painting, much in the same way the Western avant-garde has done.
This interpretation of form and movement as discursive thoughts personifies Sundas Rafi’s The gap in between—a monochrome pen and ink drawing, shaped like a globe. As a multimedia artist, Rafi indulges in striking, precise rendering of shapes to depict the void between conscious thought and unconscious automatism, generating a sense of place as well as a source of pictorial conceptions of space that occupy postmodern art’s idiosyncratic syntax.
Using automatism to render the dot into an illusory form, Shaukat Ali Khokar creates monologues on canvas that articulate a cultural imaginary which seeks to forge links with viewers and thereby construct a sense of self and locality. Viewed from this angle, the artist develops visions of the self through place and its particularities in dialogue with nature, tradition, and the universal.
Kanwal Tariq’s video installation, ‘The Invisible,’ centers on this relationship between organic bodies and their external stimuli. The looping, synchronous motion of the claws of an invisible hen, surfacing from the ground like a set of tombstones, creates a dialogue between being and nothingness, movement and stillness, reality and fiction. The twin notions of space and place signify additional elements—history, tradition, and geopolitics—which serve as a matrix on which the particularities of contemporary art in Pakistan are plotted.
Ultimately, the show offers a starting point to examine the transcultural entanglements of Pakistani art practice, the porous constructs of local and international art movements embraced by its “vision weavers.” An examination of contemporary art in Pakistan takes us beyond a spatially compact territorial unit as it engages with the myriad paths— physical and imaginary—traversed by the artists while furthering local practice.
The writer has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia. He is currently pursuing a PhD in Creative and Critical Writing from the same institution.