HH: The proposal is found in the absence of a project brief. In your curatorial concept you mention that this ‘Leap of Faith’ may be misplaced and misguided.
What made you decide to take this leap and curate this project? Where do you see yourself in it when you say that it is an artist’s narrative and concept rather than an exhibition?
AA: In my conversation with Summaya over the years we had discussions about her work, issues surrounding artworks in general and content of critical writings. Resultantly our meeting points have been educational and artistic frameworks. This narrative is an important yet difficult concept. One of my anchors for being a part of it was to know how we will both respond to each other’s narratives. I have been looking at curatorial narratives for the past three years and trying to de-clutter the context, and define what it is. In this instance, I want to de-frame and decentralize the existing framework by intervening in the rhetoric, by dismantling parts of it and opening it up to new perspectives and ideas.
Galleries are uncomfortable with her work because of its obscure nature and Summaya makes it even more so. Thus the critic as a curator became the alibi to the artists ‘concept.
HH: You are the curator, critic, participant, observer, all at the same time. Different from your other curatorial projects, how did you feel about it? And what was your role as a curator?
AA: I wanted to diminish the role of the curator, giving artist space to allow the form to speak for itself.
It was out of my comfort zone but I wanted to see how far it goes. The curatorial role for me started with contacting the galleries.
I refuse to speak to the artist after seeing the work, as I would like to read and interpret the form the way I see it.
HH: On what basis were the galleries/ art spaces selected? Why 11 spaces? And what do you think made the commercial galleries decide to take up a project of this nature?
AA: The artist’s narrative required public and private art spaces so that it forms a trajectory, a path, as it were Tarriqah. 11 was the maximum we could fit in. The viewer was free to choose their own path.
In the absence of places for discourse except FOMMA, the commercial galleries seemed ready to start a discourse. Overall the galleries were very receptive and open to venture into the project.
HH: Do you think that our viewer is ready to take this Leap of Faith?
According to you it is not an exhibition, but an artist concept. Since the viewer is a participant and an essential element in the culmination of this project, Do you think the viewer understood it? How did they react/ respond to it?
AA: No. They are not ready for it. They are used to the work being explained without trying to read the form. Anything that comes close to religion, they get awkward and uncomfortable. This concept questions the role of religion in a gallery space, especially when a holy book is involved, all the dynamics related to it emerge, with a set of manners and rule. It address different audiences at different levels.
By using the holy book as the ready-made the artist limits the objections and makes me think of it as the ultimate narcissism of the artist.
I [am] drawing an analogy of how Rashid [Rana] brought the readymade into the same space and how the same object also existed in some way outside the gallery; therefore the relationship of art to society etc. But as you know the Quran is not the readymade, it is an ‘aasmaani kitaab’, therefore the questions that context raises stem from the artist’s own inner context where there is no division between what is outside the gallery and inside. It is one. And since the content is familiar to us as a society (we are given the Azaan at birth, we are expected to complete the Quran in early life, and we celebrate the ‘Alam Nashra’ with ceremony), what is the role of that content and context within Sumaya’s narrative in Shahkaar. Where is the viewer (as participant) in that, and what role does each art gallery play? Is their relationship to the ‘art object’, the artist, and curator/critic one of acceptance, indifference or tolerance? I wanted to gauge the level and nature of discourse in this predominantly non commercial and conceptual venture.
HH: Both the artist and the critic are exploring and observing their individual premise take shape. Did this concept even need a curator’? Was it possible for you to be a part of it as a critic without changing roles?
AA: That is my question, in fact that is the question ‘Did it need a curator?’
In this instance the vessel provides critical discourse. I could not have done it this way if I was not a critic. My challenge is how I look at the role of the curator as a critic.
I wanted to diminish the curatorial role and become very open to questioning that role. In that way, the curator submits to the will of the artist, who in turn is guided by her spiritual context. In many ways, the curatorial role is a collaboration with the artist, and the role of each is diminished by the larger framework of chance, and acceptance of it. I was totally open to being as vulnerable as I could be by allowing the movement of the artist in a decentralized discourse. There were no great crowds at any of the nine locations, and an awkward acceptance of the work. I was quite dismayed by fellow writers and artists asking to tell them what the work was about. This is because in our system, there is nothing left to the imagination, and writers as well as artists and curators are told what the art is. Why is that? Because they lack the imagination to delve outside their comfort zone and rhetoric. The narrative that lies in the work is never embraced; form is never allowed to be articulated because it is always framed as a package to be understood easily. A narrative as strong as Sumaya’s has very few takers, because the gallery as a sacred space on its own, perhaps has little space for real dialogue. No wonder, one observer asked if a dummy of the Quran was not sufficient in this case. Does that not reflect on the separation of form to context? These are some important questions in the making of art and its discourse and why are we afraid to ask them? Because it disrupts the narrative of networks and hierarchies of the art world.
Hajra Haider Karrar is a graduate of the National College of Arts, Lahore.She is a visual artist and a curator. Currently she is the curator of IVS Gallery, Karachi