ARQ: A Celebration Of Womanhood, hosted by Sharmila Sahebah Faruqi (Minister for Culture and Tourism), opened on International Women’s day. The show was curated by Mehreen Hashmi, who envisioned a cultural reckoning of such a standing to commemorate the day. The public was invited for a showcase of conventional and not-so-conventional art. In keeping with the spirit of the show, all participating artists were women.
A myriad of artworks presented themselves as one entered the space. From hues of ceruleans to elaborately crafted forms using pacifiers. From cascading reds to virulent violets. All sharing the unanimous voice of the woman.
Joshinder Chagger’s performance titled “Flight” aptly captured the essence of the show itself She swayed like a petal, with glittered lids. She braided the air, she played it like a harmonium, she rustled her wings, she sought the seven skies and everything about her performance took us there. Chagger’s flight was unapologetically performed to look at. She became the object. But she didn’t use her silence to submit, but rather she painted a potent image of grace with the effortless sway of her body. She was volatile, she was liberated; she took us on the Flight. A silent ballad orchestrated with impeccable grace.
Fatema Beeka, in her performance titled “In the name of the womb”, sat in her cage, draped with a red chaddar, stringing together raw meat, which blossomed like rusty peonies. Isolated from the cage, she may appear docile, engaged in a dismissive domestic task, but the burden of her silent valour was weighed on the viewer, as does the odour of raw meat. It was immensely captivating, to watch a woman, with an unyielding expression, partaking in such humble transgression. The clink of the bangle categorized as a rather feminine sound when became the consequence of stringing together the apparent raw meat of the husband, painted a rather ominous picture. Her resilient expression was what truly made the performance.
“Being”, Sara Pagganwala’s performance where she lay in a tub, allowing her body to be marbled by the pouring of paint. The paint that was used was fluorescent, which shone only in the UV light. She writhed and turned and tousled in the tub. Colour was poured onto her, colour that tainted, but in the darkness was when it ceased to be a stain; it deflected off her body in vapid neon streaks. The idea itself weighs with such profoundness. Pagganwala, as effortless as always, reigned through her performance. She rendered her body as a canvas, her concerns cater not only to the female but the rather the human body. She relishes the idea of a utopia where a body can be seen as simply as a vessel for artistic intervention rather than succumbing to the political realm of being contained by a gender. Through her performance she attempted to liberate herself from the nature of objectification itself, rendering the body as a catalyst.
The performances seamlessly tied into one another. All three were performed sans speech. It was a mere act of using the body to convey. When the body of a woman itself poses threats to apparent ideals of morality, the nature of said body in a public space can be seen in conflict. The conflict becomes further relevant when a woman then uses her body to intervene for an art practise, but the act itself comes with a liberty. And the result itself was so powerful there was no need for words. The voice of the woman has always been silenced, but to embrace the silence and create such performances, especially when viewed in unison left me, as a female viewer, with a tantalizing taste of liberty..
Mehreen Hashmi’s gallant efforts to curate un-conventional practises especially within a space open to the public shows a farsightedness that not only establishes her credibility as a curator but reinforces discourse on the nature of censorship, especially given the nature of certain performances. Having political affiliations, allowed the exhibition space itself to be activated to a space that addresses the idea of a woman and questions the very nature of it.
Baakh Pirzada questioned the idea of the modern woman, in her piece titled “House Wife”. Using a very familiar form, the traditional woven plate found in Sindhi homes, with two sets of hair emerging from either plate; one blonde, the other brunette, she delves into the idea of what is considered to be a modern woman, and how the role of a home keeper and a mother may be stigmatized because of her apparent ‘modernity’.
Shahana Afaq’s luminescent fried egg, titled “A Memory” paid homage to her personal experiences. Not translucent, not opaque, but somewhere in between; the egg hissed and sizzled, but much like the memory it tried to immortalize, it stayed un-scorched. Afaq extracts from her personal memories, thus not being limited by a feminist agenda, her work leaves the viewer with a visual experience, playing on the nature of vacancy and a sense of longing and belonging.
Noreen Ali’s colossal piece stands out with her ingenious use of printmaking techniques, Ali’s abyss of creative imagination allows her work to transcend into a dream-like paralysis; a task that couldn’t have been undertaken by anyone but her. A dysmorphic string of sunflowers blossoming into a cadent state of sketched out doodles as a feline creature,her fur set alight with the amber glow of the carved wood, stares out with the sprite of her untold secrets.The title of the piece “Wear Your Moustache” rather comically played with the subtext of the show.
Sana Nezam, Laiba Baig, Noori Berdi, Amna Gull, Anam Rani, Nausheen Ishtiaq and Raheela Abro’s works were also part of the exhibition.
Apprehension of female parity is a relevant concern in our society. Statistics alone prove the female gender has been left hostage to society and it’s regressive patriarchal setting. The perversion of gender pleads at the facade of humanity itself. A pressing concern that needs to be tackled. ARQ proved to be a successful venture of using artistic expression to highlight issues regarding gender. Given the media attention it received and the positive response of the public, it necessitates the need to encourage cultural interventions such as these. It was truly an effort that needs to be applauded.
Photo credit: Jamal Ashiqain