Art exhibitions for fundraising are a universal phenomenon and exemplify a win-win situation for all concerned in the process. Emergent and middle-tier artists gain a high-visibility platform comprising an audience not restricted to the gallery. The charity gains funds for its ongoing projects and buyers get a chance to choose from a diverse palette of art works from traditional to modern to contemporary. The arTCF initiative is a commendable one in which Pakistani art has become the vehicle to drive audiences to a fundraiser to consolidate and add to the 830 purpose-built school units nationwide that have an enrollment of 115,000 students by most recent counts.
The present exhibition is being hosted by Mica Gallery, London, and includes a line-up of renowned and upcoming artists. These include such well-recognized names as Meher Afroze, Naiza Khan, Moeen Faruqi, Ismail Gulgee, Riffat Alvi, Qudsia Nisar, Wahab Jaffer. Others in the group consist of artists that may be less significant and yet hugely popular, destined to be snapped up far quicker at the sale than many major practitioners.
This scenario represents the buying trends of most art in the world and is not unique to Pakistan or its diaspora. For most people, contemporary art is intimidating, incomprehensible and not decorative enough for drawing rooms. The distaste for contemporary art and its ‘perversions’, and the fascination for ornamental wall pieces is understandable as, to most people, art is a commodity that should ideally be sold at furniture shops. This is entirely acceptable as long as there is no misrepresentation or pretence to substitute real art for decoration and the key to differentiating between the two is the artist’s cerebral intervention in the subjectivity of the work. When an artwork can be read and decoded at some level other than the sensuous and overtly visual one, it is almost sure to be of some merit. However, confusingly, there are no black and white lines in art, no right or wrong, no good or bad and once we allow our boundaries to be blurred by inconsistencies in the argument, which we must, we are in free fall. This drop into the chasm is what art appreciation is about.
Of course this argument is partial to the limited notion that art is a viewing activity. For artists and more informed audiences, art is immersive and contextualizes our lives as no historian can. The idea that our lives are constructs of fragmented observations, experiences, decisions, events influenced by pre-existing social structures and histories preempts the notion that the artist, who is the seer and the voyeur, will reveal to us what we are unable to perceive or envisage. Thus art gains a higher purpose of revelation at varying altitudes of the personal and the collective. To put this theory to a test, ask yourself next time you see or buy a painting “Does it show me who I am or how I exist” and you will know whether the painting is relevant or significant.