Graffiti art can be an elaborate or simple painting, writing and scribbling often in public places. Often graffiti is considered illicit and an act of vandalism. The origin of graffiti can be dated back to ancient Greece, ancient Rome and ancient Egypt. Usually graffiti is associated with underlying social and political messages. In Greece graffiti was initiated with advertisement of prostitution indicating that a brothel was near by. Ancient graffiti displayed phrases of love, political rhetoric, political slogans and famous literary quotes. Nowadays graffiti can be found in latrines, isolated alleys, bridges, and public buildings.
Although graffiti has a very potent history in the west, it is taking revolutionary turns in Pakistan through the likes of Mohsin Shaikh, a graduate of National College of Arts. Although his style is reminiscent of graffiti and runs on the same line as doodling, he has give these genres a new highly individualistic twist. His work is not a comment on social and political concepts but a celebration of life, and a poignant commentary on his personal life and all aspects of life, whichis a muse for his art.
Mohsin uses oil paint on canvas to create an optical illusion of chalk scribbles on board. He does this for a reason. He explains, “ My concept is till now, nothing is true, everything is so fragile. Be it norms of society and beliefs and thoughts of every individual. We are responsible for both our glory and failure. Even animals and birds are dependent on expression. The circle of life is entirely dependent on expression. What we don’t understand we end up ignoring, despising or don’t believe in it. All the learned scholars were true in their own way yet disagreed with others. It is all about how one is sculpt. I was discouraged from pursuing art, as a career and everyone who advised me were right according to their own circumstances hence I use chalk and board. And I have expressed myself with chalk because it is as temporary as history and altering. It can be easy rubbed away with one stroke. It is an expression of how fickle and temporary what is said, heard and believed.”
His paintings are an array of different forms of Elizabethan writings, calligraphy and varied styles of writing. He has mastered composition by including images of animals, works of masters that he has a personal affinity to and inventions and objects that he associates personally with. Although he deals with multiple elements his work doesn’t appear cluttered. The movement that he creates is pleasing to the eyes.
He uses elements like a fetus surrounded by preordained ideas of his destiny and what he is going to be. Ladders and ropes and blocks reaching up towards the graffiti symbolize personal struggles and the effort involved to reach one’s goal. An example would be Gustav Klimt’s Adele Bloch Baur, considered the modern day Mona Lisa. He says “I have depicted Mona Lisa on one of my canvases because this painting for me is for me an epitome of what art should me. I have included drawings of the Wright brothers before WW1. They were aviation pioneers and I have reinterpreted their maps and drawings of aircrafts. Lady with Ermine by Leonardo Da Vinci with a bubble saying, “I promise I won’t let you turn into fabric”. On another canvas he has depicted Dali and the likes of Marilyn Monroe. In the speech bubble, Marilyn comments on a wish in which expresses that her face could measure up to her strength. On another canvas, Mohsin depicts Abraham Lincoln and issues of racism and segregation.
He adds “my writings are all comments on my personal journey, who inspired me and what left an impact on my heart and soul. I have taken comments from my personal journal, which can be personal, illicit and even abusive. It’s all about finding solutions. I have drawn images from different element s from biology, physics and chemistry. I unlock memories of my past. I have drawn animals like macaw, rain deer, elephants and chameleon, because I learnt to draw by copying animals from books and my love for the creatures. We don’t understand animals hence we mistreat them. My work celebrates their beauty andis against animal abuse”.
He adds, “all the work is related to my life and the mistakes I have made in my life. I see life differently,thusI want to express it beautifully. For me 2+2=22 not 4.” This holds true because Mohsin’s work does not jar and it doesn’t rely on shock value to express even the most personal and the most radical ideas. His work is sensitive, poignant and gentle.
Manuscription by Mohsin Shaikh was shown at Tanzara Gallery in Islamabad in May 2017.